Oh, this makes sense.

I'm waiting on a prescription for a non-prescription medication.

Does that make any sense to you? Because it boggles me.

Last year my doctor recommended an over-the-counter medication for acid stomach. It's not outlandishly expensive, but at $22 for a six-week supply, I planned ahead. I included my budget for this medication in my flexible spending account enrollment.

Lo and behold, after enrollment for insurance programs ended at my employer and it was too late to change my elections, the government ruled that FSAs could no longer be used to buy this particular medication. Thanks, guys. That extra $190 a year really must help you out.

I discovered this when I tried to buy the medication and was told my FSA card could not be used. I was flummoxed, and contacted my FSA administrator. They confirmed what the pharmacy had told me, but said there was a regulation that would allow me to buy the medication with my FSA money if my doctor wrote a prescription for it.

"But it's an over-the-counter medication," I protested.
"He can write a prescription for an over-the-counter medication," they insisted.

Next I had to explain this nonsense to my doctor's medical assistant. First incredulous, then laughing, she presented it to my former-military doctor, who probably had some interesting words for it before writing me a prescription for my OTC medication.

Then I took it to Walgreens, slapping the box of 42 generic pills beside the scrip. The pharmacist was understandably confused. I explained, and he frowned at his computer screen for a while.

"I can't do it," he said.
Now it was my turn to be flummoxed. "But the law says I can use the FSA funds if I have a prescription. Here's the prescription."
He frowned some more. "But our computer can't ring it up that way."

I restrained myself, since shouting, "That's your problem!" would not help. Surely I was not the only person in this predicament, right? At some point Walgreens would have to allow for non-prescription medications to be coded as prescriptions for FSA purposes?

"We can run it as a prescription and fill it from back here," he said, gesturing to the stacks of pills.
"Okay," I said.
He did so, and rang it up. "That'll be $78."

Whaaaat? It's the same pill as the box on the shelf for $22. Did I mention my insurance sucks?

Eventually Walgreens did work it out, and I was able to use my money for its intended purpose and buy the OTC med at the normal price.

Fast forward to tonight, when I had to get my medication from a different Walgreens. As with each previous visit, I tiredly explained that I had a prescription on file for an OTC medication, wishing I could get them to just tell me which button needed to be pressed to ring it up properly and then I could train each new pharmacist.

This one insisted, however, that it could not be done. All of maybe 20 years old, he tried to ring it up as a regular medication and of course the computer rejected the FSA card.

"We can run it as a prescription from back here," he said.
Ring a round the rosy, pocket full of posy.... I explained yet again why that doesn't work.
He punched in the numbers anyway and said, "Sure, it's $18.99.


Not $78 anymore. Fine by me, so I sat down and waited for them to fill my "prescription." Secretly I almost wished my condition would get worse so I could just get a regular prescription and be done with this nonsense.

A few minutes ago, I saw my pharmacist scuttle out from behind the counter and grab the same box of OTC medication off the shelf and bring it back behind the counter to slap a prescription label on it. With an embarrassed shrug, he said, "They instructed us to use those."

I didn't stop laughing until it was time to pay up.


  1. Anonymous8:45 AM

    My health insurance changed the "prescription" portion to a separate company than the "medical" portion, and Walgreen's started giving me trouble with it (and the insurer doesn't much like Walgreens, truth be told) so I started using (Gasp!) CVS.
    One of my medications turns out to cost - full price retail cost - less than the minimum co-pay on my insurance. Walgreens has been happily filing it against insurance, getting a $0.00 reimbursement and charging me $20 a month. CVS happily told me "a 90-day supply of this only costs $7.26".
    I think I'm done with Walgreens.


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