FDA seeks advice on making more drugs OTC

There is more talk in Washington, D.C., about stretching the definition of over-the-counter.

The FDA is holding its second day of hearings on whether some prescription medications should be sold OTC with pharmacists providing advice at the time of sale.

The agency has suggested that cholesterol, asthma, migraine and blood-pressure drugs are the kinds of medications that may no longer need to be handled through prescriptions. Part of the idea is to give consumers with chronic conditions easier access to drugs, but the bigger driver is that it would save the government a boat-load of money.

Insurance plans, including government coverage, typically don't cover OTC drugs. It is estimated that OTC drugs save the government about $102 billion a year, reports Bloomberg. Of course, that is the other edge of the sword. Consumers can get their medications easier but will probably pay full cost.

At today's hearing, birth control advocates will again make their case that morning-after pills should be sold over the counter. In December, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stopped the the FDA from approving Teva Pharmaceutical's ($TEVA) Plan B One-Step for OTC sales to girls under the age of 17.

The requirement of the Affordable Healthcare Act that all organizations, including religious ones, have to cover the cost of birth control has become controversial and part of the presidential campaign debate. But if they are available OTC, then the requirement is moot.

Drugs moving from prescription to OTC status is not without precedent. Bloomberg points out that Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), for example, has experience with products like Nicorette, Motrin and Pepcid.

- read the Bloomberg story