The American Senate is taking some steps to ensure that vitamins, minerals, herbs, and specialty supplements, like prescription drugs, would be covered by health insurance plans, reports the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance.
Through the new "Dietary Supplement Tax Fairness Act of 2001" (Bill S.1330) introduced on August 2, 2001 by Senators Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (Utah), dietary supplements, medical foods and foods for special dietary needs would be treated as medical expenses under the US tax code, which would mean that when these products are offered through a health insurance plan, the costs would be tax deductible for employers and excluded from taxable income for employees.
According to Senator Tom Harkin, giving dietary supplements parity with prescription drugs under the US tax code will advance sound healthcare policy. "Our current policy is unfair and is failing to take full advantage of the potential to improve health and hold down health care costs through preventive health care practices available to consumers," he explained.
"Bringing the code up to date to recognise and allow for this important need for wellness and health promotion is an important step for ward to overall sound healthcare policy."
Along with giving consumers a tax deduction for using dietary supplements, S.1330 would recognise the importance of paying for the dietary needs of people diagnosed with specific metabolic disorders and medical conditions. Accordingly, the legislation would allow foods for dietary needs to be considered a medical expense for the management of diabetes, autoimmune disorders and chronic inflammatory conditions. In addition, parents would be financially covered to pay for the dietary needs of children who have been diagnosed with metabolic disorders and autism.
"Insurance companies and employers responding to this consumer demand have been frustrated by being unable to offer a benefit like this in a manner consistent with other health care practices which receive favourable consideration in the Internal Revenue Code," said Senator Harkin.
A comprehensive national survey done by Harris Interactive Inc., on the use of dietary supplements, called the Dietary Supplement Barometer Survey, polled 1,027 consumers aged 18 and over, and found that 59 per cent of the American population take supplements on a regular basis.
According to the survey, 46 per cent take a multiple vitamin/mineral product daily, while 35 per cent take single vitamins, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, or Vitamin B complex. At the same time, the survey reveals that 23 per cent regularly use herbs and specialty supplements.
The survey reveals that the reasons consumers give for taking supplements are: to feel better (72 per cent), to help prevent getting sick (67 per cent), to help get better when they are sick (51 per cent), to live longer (50 per cent), to build strength and muscle (37 per cent), and for weight management (12 per cent). Some people report taking supplements for a specific health reason (36 per cent) or for sports nutrition (24 per cent). In addition, 33 per cent say that they take supplements on the advice of their doctor.
According to the Nutrition Business Journal, Americans associate supplements with improved health and well-being, and spent $5.9bn (Euro6.64bn)for vitamins, $4.12bn (Euro4.64bn) for herbs and botanicals, $2.14bn (Euro2.41bn) for meal supplements, $1.67bn (Euro1.88bn) for specialty supplements, $1.59bn (Euro1.79bn) for sports nutrition products, and $1.39bn (Euro1.56bn) for minerals in 2000.
"Giving a tax deduction for these valuable products will go a long way towards holding down the nation's health care costs through preventive health care practices that are available to all consumers," said Jerry Cott, Ph.D., a leading neuro-psycho-pharmacologist formerly with the National Institute of Mental Health and now a member of the scientific advisory board of the Dietary Supplement Information Bureau™ .