I-Team: Over-the-counter meds

An NBC 10 I-Team investigation shows that Rhode Island taxpayers paid more than $2.5 million in 2012 for prescriptions for common over-the-counter medications and health items.

Under RIte Care and other public assistance programs, things like generic Tylenol, athlete's foot spray and condoms were paid for by taxpayers.

The I-Team poured though records obtained from the state Department of Human Services.

The records show:

  • $885,000 was paid for digestive and diabetes management drugs.
  • $566,000 was paid for cold and allergy medications.
  • $350,600 was paid for analgesics and fever medications (like generic Tylenol)
  • $275,000 was paid for skin creams.
  • $117,000 was paid out for vitamins.
  • $5,000 was paid for condoms.

But Steven Costantino, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said prescriptions for over-the-counter medications and health items actually save taxpayers money.

"Take Prilosec, for example. The prescription form of Prilosec costs nearly $300, but the over-the-counter cost is only $20," Costantino said.

In 2012, taxpayers paid out more than $5,000 for condoms that are covered with a prescription under the RIte Care program.

"You can make an argument that it would be unethical not to write prescriptions for over-the-counter medications," said Dr. Ira Wilson of Brown University.

Wilson said it's a doctor's responsibility to provide the best care they can for patients, at the lowest cost.

Wilson said, however, that it's unfortunate that a prescription is required for over-the-counter meds because a patient has to go to a doctor's office or the emergency room to get the prescription. Those visits are also covered under the RIte Care program and add to the costs of taxpayers.

The American Medical Association has concerns about the practice of writing prescriptions for over-the-counter meds. The scripts are also required for those patients with private insurance who have flexible spending accounts.

The AMA said doctors are wasting valuable time writing prescriptions for over-the-counter meds that are not legally necessary.

The largest medical association in the United States said some members of Congress are considering a ban on the need to have a prescription for over-the-counter meds to be covered by medical insurance plans.