Opinion: Government-mandated prescription requirements would cost Michigan

Kathleen Slonager
In this 2015 file photo, certified medical assistant Shi-Teka Berienprepares an asthma treatment for patient Davioanna Harris, both of Detroit. Detroit is the 10th worst metropolitan area nationally for asthma attacks in African-American children caused by exposure to oil and gas pollution, a new study has found.

Americans consistently cite healthcare costs and access as some of their highest concerns. Imagine a situation where costs and access become even worse.

Allergy season is right around the corner here in Michigan and plenty of us will be affected by the pollen in the air. Imagine there’s just enough floating around to make you feel uncomfortably congested. It isn’t excruciating, but you certainly don’t feel your best. You can’t let that stop you, so you go to your local pharmacy to pick up your tried-and-true allergy medicine.

Now imagine you walk up to the pharmacy counter and instead of showing your ID and signing a logbook, your pharmacist apologizes and tells you that she now needs a prescription from your doctor.

Your allergies have never been severe enough to make you visit your doctor, but you call their office and are told they can’t get you in for an appointment for another week, and of course the only open spot is right in the middle of the work day.

You can’t afford to miss work and you have a family to take care of. You don’t have the time for this new hassle, not to mention the additional co-pay costs you’ll now have to budget for.

That is not the scenario in Michigan right now, but with 25 years of healthcare experience, I can tell you that is exactly how it would play out if our state legislature were to ever consider a prescription requirement for current over-the-counter (OTC) medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) like Claritin-D and Zyrtec-D.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America – Michigan Chapter (AAFA Michigan) and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) just released the results of a statewide survey showing that the vast majority of Michigan residents – 59 percent – oppose any kind of legislation requiring a prescription for these OTC medicines.

Plans for such a requirement are not yet on the table, however we at AAFA Michigan believe it is necessary to squash any talk of PSE prescription policies right now. It is simply bad public policy and individuals across the state of Michigan have now made their disapproval known.

While many, right now, feel divided on a variety of issues, Michigan voters from across the political spectrum showed us their unity in opposing any kind of potential prescription legislation. Fifty-five percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Independents stand together against requiring a prescription for their much-needed cold and allergy medicines.

From the Upper Peninsula to Detroit, over two-thirds of people told us that they or their families would be inconvenienced by legislation like this. Many were concerned about the exact type of scenario described above – if patients are required to get a prescription for over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines, they will be forced to miss work to see the doctor for a common seasonal ailment. This in turn would increase the overall number of doctor’s visits, making it more difficult to see one’s doctor, and would place higher costs on Michigan families through insurance co-pays for both doctors and pharmacists.

State lawmakers have already done great work to prevent local meth makers from diverting medicines containing PSE from their intended uses. Smart solutions like the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) – an electronic log system used by pharmacists and law enforcement together – are supported by seven-out-of-10 Michiganians.

AAFA Michigan supports efforts by our legislators, law enforcement and pharmacists to effectively prevent local drug production; however, we believe – and Michigan voters agree – that any kind of public policy requiring a prescription for over-the-counter medicines containing PSE would do more harm than good. It simply is not right to punish honest cold and allergy sufferers for the actions of a small and decreasing number of illegal drug makers.

Kathleen Slonager is a registered nurse and the executive director of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America – Michigan Chapter.