Flex-Ed: HIV screening and FSAs … what you need to know

Regularly screening for HIV and other STDs is an important part of sexual and overall health. But depending on your insurance, visiting your doctor to be screened for HIV can actually be quite expensive - you might find yourself with a hefty copay, and there's a chance your insurance won't cover it at all if you aren't displaying symptoms.

If you have an FSA and are looking for a way to pay for important HIV screenings, read on. While we may not be medical professionals, we are proponents of staying ahead of your health. As always, see your doctor before any medical testing or procedure.

What's covered?

The cost of an HIV screening in an FSA-eligible expense. HIV tests fall under the category of health screenings, which are an eligible expense because they are necessary for the prevention or diagnosis of a medical condition. Screening tests like those that are done to check for HIV can check for the presence of the virus early on, and if it's detected, allows you to begin getting treatment as soon as possible.

Many times, these screening tests can detect the disease long before symptoms start to appear, which allows for earlier and more effective treatment.

The CDC recommends that everyone who is between the ages of 13-64 gets tested for HIV at least once so that they know their status. Even if you only have one committed sexual partner, it's best to be tested to have a definitive answer about your status.

Anyone who's at a higher risk for HIV should be tested at least once a year, or more often if the risk for exposure is greater. It's also important for pregnant women to be tested for HIV - the sooner HIV is detected and treated, the less likely it is that the virus will be transferred to the baby.

When it comes to stopping the spread of HIV, your FSA can help you cover some of those costs as well. Condoms are still considered a strong defense against sexually transmitted diseases, and are eligible for reimbursement without any prescription from a healthcare professional. While they don't eliminate the risk, they can help cut it down dramatically.

How they work

HIV screenings check to see if your body has the antibodies present to fight the virus. You can ask your primary care physician about being tested, visit a testing site at a lab or hospital, or even purchase an at-home test kit.

Depending on whether or not the facility you choose needs to send the samples out to a lab, you might need to wait a few days to hear back on your results. But many screening sites have access to rapid-result tests, which allow you to find out the result within about 20 minutes.

A less common testing option is a nucleic acid test, or NAT, which tests for the presence of the virus in the bloodstream. These tests aren't used very often, but can be necessary if you've recently had a high-risk of exposure or are already showing the early symptoms of HIV.

If you prefer to do an at-home test, you can purchase a kit to screen for HIV. These kits contain everything you need and most provide your result within 20 minutes. They're simple to use - all you need to do is swab the inside of your cheek and follow the included instructions to complete the test. These at-home screening kits are also an FSA-eligible expense.

But before you purchase one, always check to be sure that it's FDA-approved. And remember that at-home screenings aren't a replacement for checkups with your physician.

New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our weekly Flex-Ed column gives you a weekly dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

That's Eligible?! Must-haves for your baby's first road trip

My husband and I recently took our first road trip with our baby. While I had visions of listening to the perfect road trip playlist while my baby slept peacefully in his carseat, the reality was a bit different.

What was supposed to be a peaceful 10-hour road trip to visit family ended up as an 18-hour drive, replete with a minor car accident and later, a trip to the emergency room.

Don't worry, we're all fine. But we learned quickly what items and preparation were needed to make the next road trip a bit more bearable – and safe. After all, traveling with a child is anything but predictable.

A little due diligence...

Before booking a major trip, ask yourself the question: is this type of trip appropriate for my child, given his or her age, any medical conditions, or special needs? Are the necessary travel hours doable for their age? How long can they realistically be expected to sit still, whether strapped into a car seat or on a plane with hundreds of strangers?

If you've always longed to camp at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Yosemite, or dreamt of taking your little one to Paris to picnic under the Eiffel Tower, that's all well and good. But would your child enjoy it, as well? And would you realistically be able to enjoy the trip, with a baby and necessary gear in tow? (I'll go ahead and answer that for you… no.)

Say you're planning an epic cross-country road trip. You'll need to schedule ample bathroom and snack stops, and it wouldn't hurt to book a few nights at a hotel with some kid-friendly attractions, like a pool or indoor water park, either.

Same goes for flying. If you're looking at a 10-hour flight, maybe breaking it up into two flights with a layover in a fun, family-friendly city makes more sense.

Make like a scout and be prepared

No one wants to think of the worst-case scenario when planning a vacation with their family. But it happens. Case in point: During our road trip, my son scratched his cornea (darn those tiny baby nails!) and my husband and I found ourselves at the local children's hospital at 6 a.m. our second day there, with one very grumpy baby in tow.

We were fortunate that the nearest emergency room was at a top-ranked hospital, but that was pure luck. Next time, I wouldn't take that chance. Being prepared goes beyond packing a first aid kit, white noise machine, sunscreen, and a thermometer (most of which with the exception of the white noise machine are FSA-eligible by the way.)

It's a no-brainer to booking the usual hotels, rental cars, and activities for your next trip in advance. But when traveling with kids, creating a medical map is also a must. It should include the nearest hospital, urgent care, and 24-hour pharmacy at your destination, as well as those along the route.

It's also wise to call ahead to the hospital to ensure they accept your insurance, and if any emergency room visits are FSA or HSA-eligible. Add your medical map, as well as the addresses of any retailers that could ship necessary meds or first-aid supplies overnight, to a folder the contains all the details for your trip.

Another item to include in your master folder? The name and phone number of your car insurance policy, as well as details on your coverage. You know, just in case your husband backs into a pole during your epic road trip. (This is a purely hypothetical situation, of course.)

It's also wise to include printouts of your route (in case your phone's GPS doesn't work), as well as a list of intended stops, including food/fuel stations, and hours between said stops. While "winging it" may be romantic and spontaneous when you're young, the less you leave to chance with a baby, the better.

While this may see like overkill, no one wants to be frantically Googling in the middle of the night with a sick or injured child on vacation.

An ounce of prevention...

Politics aside, knowing your stuff when it comes to recommended vaccines before travel is also a must when traveling with children. Some overseas locales even require certain vaccines. Worth noting: vaccines are also FSA-eligible.

Also take into account environmental dangers to prepare for, such as wildlife or poisonous plants, even extreme heat. Be sure to get any necessary vaccinations, preventative care, or appropriate gear well in advance of your trip. And if you or your child take a daily medication, such as allergy meds, be sure to stock up beforehand.

And if this vacation is sounding more and more like work than a much-needed vacation, you're not alone. But trust me when I say that experiencing new places and sights through your child's eyes makes it all worth it... we think.

Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Asked and Answered: What happens to lost FSA money?

Around our offices, we say "use it or lose it" a lot each day. Whether we're reminding FSA holders of upcoming deadlines, or just sharing some information about these tax-free accounts, "use it or lose it" has become a tagline for our entire team. And, because we offer a growing selection of 4,000+ FSA-eligible products, our guests usually don't have any trouble using their FSA funds.

Since we're jumping into open enrollment season, we thought it would be a good idea to discuss the most common of questions when it comes to FSA funds -- what happens to the money that does get lost? No one likes losing money, no matter the amount. So we thought it was a good idea to remind people of what happens if they end up on the wrong side of the "use it or lose it" rule.

Let's cut to the chase…

You may not like this answer, but your unused FSA money returns to your employer. These funds can be used in a variety of ways, which we'll get to in a bit. Now, before you and your coworkers march down the hall with flaming torches, realize they're not the "bad guys" in this scenario. In fact, they're on your side, and are even taking some risks to make FSAs available to employees.

See it from your company's perspective

It's true -- your employer assumes a good amount of financial risk when you sign up for an FSA. That's because even though you get to contribute to your account little by little, through regular paycheck deductions, you actually have access to the entire year's allocation, right from the beginning of the plan year.

Who's fronting that money? You guessed it, the employers. And they're on the hook for any losses if you leave the company before making a full year's contribution.

In other words, if your plan year begins on January 1, and you opt for an expensive FSA-eligible procedure that week, you can use the entire year's allocation to pay for it tax-free. But if you quit a month later, your company is forced to eat that balance.

So, lost FSA funds from other employees can be used to offset these losses. It's not what your employers want to do. But it's certainly better for them than having to absorb the entire loss.

So where does it go from there?

While we certainly can't fault companies for wanting to protect themselves from potential financial losses, some choose to reinvest this "found" money into its people. No, they can't just refund you the exact amount you lost. But there are several ways they can share the wealth and ease the sting of lost funds.

1. Pooling

Though it's rare, companies could choose to give the money back to its employees directly. It's not as simple as refunding the exact amount lost to each person with an FSA, but employers might opt to pool the collective losses and distribute back to plan participants in a fair, uniform way.

(To be clear, any money returned to participants must be distributed to ALL participants -- not just those who lost funds that year.)

2. Administrative fees

Companies may choose to save these excess funds and use them as a way to offset the costs and fees involved in providing FSAs. By doing so, they can make it easier to offer these accounts to employees.

In this "worst case" scenario, your money ends up used in a way we outlined above. There is good news though -- your employer may offer a few options to help extend your funds and avoid losing them altogether.

1. Grace period

Many employers offer an FSA grace period -- something we've discussed quite a bit in our Learning Centers -- which gives you an extra 2.5 months to use their funds from the previous plan year. For example, if your plan year ends on December 31, you have until March 15 of the following year to use those funds before risking a loss.

2. Rollover

Another common FSA feature is the rollover option, which allows you to carry up to $500 of your FSA dollars to the following year, eliminating any last-minute rushes or lost funds.

Like we said at the beginning of the article, no one likes losing money, which is why we encourage users to create a budget and spend accordingly to meet your family's healthcare needs. But on the off chance you miss your FSA deadline, know that the money is safe, and might even find its way back to you before long.

From FSA basics to the most specific account details, in our weekly Asked and Answered column, our team gets to the bottom of your most-pressing flex spending questions. It appears every Wednesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Flex-Ed: Shedding light on the Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN)

If you've spent some time looking through our Eligibility List, you probably noticed a classification of qualifying medical products and services as "requiring a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN)."

In short, an LMN is like a doctor's note. Having an LMN can help any product or service that falls outside the IRS's definition of "medical care" (but can assist the treatment of a condition) get approved for FSA reimbursement.

Let's understand the term "medical care"

For a product or service to be FSA-eligible, it must treat, cure, diagnose or prevent a disease or illness. Or it has to affect a function of the body. So a product like a first-aid kit is a no-brainer, as it can be used in a huge variety of medical situations.

However, there are many treatment methods and products available that fall outside IRS guidelines that could be made eligible with some additional documentation from your doctor.

Here's an example: If your doctor suggests massage therapy to treat an injury, it's not FSA-eligible on its own. However, if you get an LMN from your doctor that outlines how the treatment method is essential to your recovery, your benefits administrator may accept it as an FSA-eligible expense.

How to submit an LMN

If you and your doctor have identified a medical product or service that can aid the treatment of an injury or medical condition and it falls outside FSA-eligibility, here's what you need to do:

  • Check with your benefits administrator to see if there is an official form to fill out for the expense to be approved.
  • If your doctor is writing a letter on his/her own, the letter must outline: what medical condition is being treated, a description of the treatment (frequency, dosage), and how long the expense will be needed to treat the condition.
  • A receipt or invoice must be submitted with the LMN for the full price to be reimbursed.

In some cases, benefits administrators may ask for additional information from your doctor, most likely for products/services that also have non-medical uses.

Beyond its direct medical use, most expenses are non-reimbursable if the individual would have purchased it anyway. In other words, this product can't be something you would purchase even if you didn't have the condition. It needs to be directly related to this course of treatment, and the specific use needs to be confirmed by a doctor.

One example is yoga. If you're already paying for yoga classes unrelated to a medical condition, your payments are not FSA-eligible, and these costs won't be covered retroactively. But if a physician recommends yoga to help a specific condition, they might submit an LMN on your behalf, to allow you to use tax-free funds to cover the costs of classes for a set period of time, until the doctor determines your treatment is complete.

With any luck, you shouldn't have any difficulties getting reimbursed for your expense as long as you keep an open line of communication with your benefits administrator and ensure that your physician is as detailed as possible!

New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our weekly Flex-Ed column gives you a weekly dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.


That's Eligible?! Allergy season isn't over for everyone

According to the news, allergy season is history. We haven't seen any updated videos of trees exploding with pollen. And most people have adjusted to the warmer air with minimal trouble.

But for many, allergies remain an ongoing problem, leading to coughing, sneezing and sore throat, well into the summer months. So, unless you choose to stay indoors all summer, we recommend facing allergies head on. And there are FSA-eligible products that can help you get ahead of these summer irritations.

Steam inhalers

With so much warmth and humidity in the air each summer, it seems weird that anyone would want a machine that provides more warm, humid air. But the bottom line is that they're a huge help for alleviating summer allergy, cold and flu symptoms.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible steam inhalers for both adults and children that can help open nasal passages, and clear the nasty buildup that causes sore throats and stuffy heads, while also alleviating some of the pain that comes with them.

Hot and cold packs

Sometimes the best way to attack your allergy problems is from the outside in. Through simple hot or cold compresses (which come in a wide range of shapes and styles) people find all-natural relief from sinus headaches, nasal pressure and sore throat pain, just by holding them against the affected areas.

Pain and allergy medications

There's a huge range of allergy medications available that do a good job getting you through stuffy noses, sneezing, scratchy, dry throats and more. And when your sore throat moves beyond comfortable levels, standard pain medications usually do the trick for longer-term relief. To ease things a little more quickly, medicated throat lozenges can make a world of difference, too.

Please note: Pain relief medications and throat lozenges will require a prescription to be FSA-eligible. But our Rx Process isn't difficult at all, and if you find yourself using these products all season long, think of the savings your FSA can provide! Check out our complete Eligibility List to see if the products you need require a prescription.

Mattress and pillow covers

There's a chance your ongoing sore throat might actually be coming from inside your house. On top of pollen and other environmental allergens, dust mites also become a bigger problem during spring and summer months. No, it's not a comfortable topic, but these microscopic annoyances thrive in warmer summer weather, and can keep your allergy problems going well into fall.

Anti-allergy mattress and pillow covers put a barrier between you and the dust and germs beneath the surface, and help contain them, to help reduce your symptoms.

Allergies are a topic we cover quite a bit, because they continue to affect many people, long after the "season" ends. Thankfully, there are a lot of products available to make it easier on you all summer long.

If your symptoms don't improve or become more severe, speak with an allergist to ensure medications and treatments are right for your symptoms. To locate an allergist, visit the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology website for a list of specialists near you.

Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.


Asked and Answered: Can I use my FSA for travel immunizations?

Summer is here, those vacation days you've been saving up all winter are ready to use. It's time to get on a plane and go somewhere fun while the sun is shining and the weather is warm.

Though you can't use your flexible spending account (FSA) to pay for the trip itself, you can use it to cover the costs of necessary travel vaccines for your summer vacation, no matter where your journey takes you.

When traveling to a foreign country, there's often a list of both recommended and mandatory shots that you, as the traveller, have to get before takeoff. Different countries are hosts to different things -- food, water quality, plant life and more. Depending on where you're headed, appropriate immunizations can protect you from potential diseases that can come from being exposed to things your body isn't accustomed to.

According to IRS Publication 502, qualified medical expenses include the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. As a result, these immunizations qualify as FSA-eligible expenses.

So, what does this mean for you?

Let's lead with an example. If you're traveling somewhere in the mountains of Japan, then you need to make sure you get the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine. If you're lounging on the beaches of Costa Rica, then you need to get a typhoid vaccination before buying those plane tickets.

Different travel destinations require different vaccinations, so make sure to check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Traveler's Health page to see what type of vaccinations are needed (or recommended) for your getaway.

The CDC recommends making these appointments 4-6 weeks prior to your travel date because some vaccinations require more than one shot, or take time to reach full effectiveness.

I'm traveling with my family. Are their immunizations covered, too?

Yes and no, depending on the circumstances. Here's who's qualified to be covered for travel immunizations under FSA eligibility as defined by Internal Revenue Code 105(b):

  • The employee
  • The employee's spouse
  • An employee's child through the age of 26
  • An employee's qualified tax dependent

Vacations are as much about relaxation as they are about sightseeing. To give yourself that peace of mind, before you book that international getaway, be sure to make those doctor's appointments and get the proper immunizations.

(And while you're at it, make sure to get some FSA-eligible sun protection along the way.)

From FSA basics to the most specific account details, in our weekly Asked and Answered column, our team gets to the bottom of your most-pressing flex spending questions. It appears every Wednesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Real Money: Your mid-year FSA check-in (Part 1)

Summer is here! Time to break out the swimsuits, pack for vacation ... and take a look at your flexible spending account (FSA)? No, this doesn't seem as exciting as a trip to the beach, but it's never a bad idea to take a closer look at your FSA to see how well it's holding up at the mid-year mark.

Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner in Gaithersburg, Maryland, advises people with FSAs "ask, not judge" how their anticipated spending is meeting their actual needs at the 2018 halfway point. No need for harsh self-criticism. Reviewing expenses can help you get back on track if needed and prepare you so there are fewer surprises when open enrollment begins in a few months.

"If you're like me and you blew through it, it's not necessarily a bad thing because I contributed the maximum," Cheng said. A one-time expense, a $750 deposit for her daughter's orthodontic work, caused her to hit the healthcare FSA ceiling of $2,650 per person per year. Although she maxed out mid-year, she's pleased to take full advantage and lowered her taxable income. Cheng added, "The good news far outweighs the bad news."

For those close to spending all the money they've put aside or already done so, it pays to examine what caused the early exhaustion to see if it's an extraordinary event or a new recurring expense that could change your calculations for next year.

Maybe your health insurance company raised a prescription copay in the last few months or you faced an unpredictable medical expense. These events are beyond your control.

People in the opposite category -- those who accumulated more funds than they've tapped thus far -- should consider looking at eligible goods and services they may not realize are covered by their FSAs. And for those who find they're about where they thought they would be by June, congratulations! You can hit the beach before the rest of us.

If you underestimated your expenses or received a new diagnosis that caused you to exhaust your funds earlier than expected, don't despair. You can take the lessons and plan to contribute more next year if you haven't already, up to that $2,650 limit.

"The more chronic the illness, the more [FSAs] are beneficial because it's something that persists and that they'll continue to be treated for, which will then keep the expense going," said Darin Shebesta, a certified financial planner in Scottsdale, Arizona.

If you're in the underspending camp, no need to rush out and recklessly purchase items you may not need because you're afraid of the "use it or lose it" rule. But it's a good idea to take stock to see what you might be overlooking.

For example, you and your dependents may be enjoying a healthful year with few doctor visits and therefore little reason to tap your FSA. But say your child needs pricier disposable contact lenses to play sports, or you decide it's time to try acupuncture for an ongoing medical issue.

Expenses like these are typically FSA-eligible. (Acupuncture may require you receive a letter of medical necessity from your doctor. This serves as documentation of medical need, to be submitted to your FSA third-party administrator.)

What's more, many employers offer a grace period where employees can claim FSA money into the first quarter of the following year, reducing the panic that comes from feeling behind in your FSA. Make sure to find out if your employer offers an extension so you know how to pace your spending in the second half of the year.

[Part 2 of this feature will appear in next Tuesday's Real Money column.]

Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


That's Eligible?! Three of the LEAST-expected FSA-eligible services

Most people with FSA money to spend know that a wide range of everyday medical supplies, services and expenses are FSA-eligible. You know the usual suspects -- bandages, pain relief medications, etc. But, it's possible you might have some other medical expenditures that also fall under the FSA-eligible umbrella.

(Pro Tip: We have approximately 4,000+ FSA-eligible items in our store -- there's a really good chance you weren't expecting all of them to be there.)

It's always worth taking a few minutes to research if any of your health-related costs are covered when planning your FSA spending budget. With that in mind, here are just three examples things you'd never expect to be FSA-eligible:

Companion animals

Let's start off with one of our favorites. Companion animals. These lovable, loyal helpers come in two basic types: emotional support animals for individuals, and therapy animals that are fully obedience trained to assist at hospitals, retirement homes and schools.

Costs related to service animals are FSA-eligible if the person who requires the animal's care has a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN). This eligibility extends to companion animal needs too.

If a service animal is under your care, the costs related to that animal's well-being, such as dog food or veterinary treatments are FSA-eligible when you provide appropriate supporting documentation. Keep in mind these are also eligible with HSAs and HRAs (if the plan allows), but not with limited care FSAs or dependent care FSAs.

Alcohol addiction treatment

If you are struggling with alcohol addiction and find the treatments to be cost-prohibitive, your FSA can help. Not only are recovery center visits eligible, often including meals and lodging, but if membership in Alcoholics Anonymous is considered necessary for your recovery, transportation to and from meetings also qualifies (your doctor may need to provide you with documentation for reimbursement).

Speaking of which...

Travel for medical care

Getting to and from AA meetings is FSA-eligible because travel and transportation costs for medical care is eligible with FSAs, Examples include:

  • Rental car, bus, taxi, train, plan and ferry fees
  • Ambulatory services
  • Car-related costs including mileage, gas, oil, parking and toll fees

And who is covered?

  • Person receiving medical care
  • Parents required to travel with a child
  • Nurse or caregiver required for treatment
  • Individual required to help a mentally ill dependent safely travel.

Lodging can also be an eligible expense for patients and an accompanying individual, but the amount is capped and the lodging must be for medical treatment and not personal pleasure, recreation or travel.

To be on the safe side, if you're planning on using FSA funds for lodging, it's best to speak with your FSA administrator first to determine exactly what types of documentation they'll want you to collect on your trip to ensure reimbursement by your FSA..

Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Real Money: What happens if your FSA claim is denied?

It's embarrassing when your credit card is declined because it feels like everyone—the people in line and the cashier—is looking at you. The good news is that you typically know how to handle it: call the bank, try a different card or check your balance.

But what happens if your FSA claim is declined? It often feels similar, but the next steps can be confusing. Here's everything you need to know if your FSA card is denied.

Don't panic

Regardless of why your card was denied, there's no need to be embarrassed. It doesn't mean you've done anything wrong and there's a good chance it's not even your fault. There are a lot of reasons your FSA claim might be denied and most have an easy fix. The first step is to figure out whether or not your card has been activated.

Forgetting to activate your card is a common oversite with a simple solution: call your card administrator or explore your company's benefits website to learn how to activate your card.

Double check your funds

Let's be honest: sometimes it's hard to keep track of everything and that includes your FSA card balance. If your FSA claim is denied, it might be because you had insufficient funds in your account or that the price of the item you tried to purchase is higher than your balance. Be sure to check your balance before you use your card again.

Make sure you're using an approved merchant

FSA cards come with a lot of specific rules and one of the primary rules is that you can only use your account to buy FSA-eligible items. Various restrictions are put on the card to ensure that you use the funds correctly, including limitations based on merchant type, limitations based on merchant systems and limitations based on merchant inventory, to name a few.

For the most part, your FSA card should work where it makes sense; at locations such as local pharmacies and drugstores, vision centers, doctor and dental offices, etc. But if you try to use your card at an ice cream parlor or an auto parts store, even if that ice cream parlor happens to sell FSA-eligible band-aids, chances are your card won't work.

If you have questions about whether or not a specific merchant will allow your FSA card, you can contact your FSA administrator to find out.

The easiest way to ensure that your items are eligible is by shopping at a store that exclusively sells FSA-eligible items. It takes the guesswork out of shopping and decreases the chances that your FSA card will be declined.

Confirm with your employer that the item is eligible

Here's the deal: the IRS determines which items are FSA-eligible. However, employers can set their own eligibility rules as long as they are adhering to the IRS guidelines. In other words, it's important to check in with your FSA administrator and confirm that the item you tried to buy is FSA-eligible.

If your FSA card was declined but you decided to buy the item with a different card, then it's still a good idea to try and get reimbursed through your FSA. If you bought the item through FSAStore.com and the item was allowed under your plan guidelines, we guarantee that the item is FSA-eligible, so be sure to save your receipt and submit for reimbursement.

But remember: items with a red checkmark are always FSA-eligible, while products marked with a BLUE "Rx" require a prescription from your doctor in order to be eligible.

Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


That's Eligible?! 3 FSA-eligible ways to improve home air quality

"Air pollution" is typically associated with large, industrial cities, but the truth is the air in your home might be even more polluted than outdoors. According to a recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution is a top environmental concern and can have serious health implications. Taking steps to control the air quality in your home can ultimately reduce your risk of related health concerns.

Luckily, there are some simple solutions that can improve at-home air quality. The best part? The following options just might be FSA-eligible, and worth investigating if your medical needs meet the requirements. In other words, you may be able to decrease air pollution in your home and save money. It's the ultimate win-win.

Air purifiers

Air purifiers work to decrease contaminants in a room, and they're especially beneficial for people with allergies or asthma. However, air purifiers also help to increase air quality, decrease pet dander and heal skin irritations. The stronger types of air purifiers are standalone purifiers and those that connect to larger air conditioning units.

Depending on your needs you may want to select a purifier that's designed to handle the specific source of your air quality concern. Whether that's pet dander, smoke, pollen, or even cooking odors. But always remember, the primary requirement for a good air filter is a high "Clean Air Delivery Rate."

Verdict: FSA-eligible with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or healthcare provider. Note: Not all administrators will allow for this and it depends on your medical condition.

Air conditioners

One of the best ways to improve air quality in your home is by controlling the moisture. Here's how it works—mites and mold thrive in dark, damp places, so if you have a bathroom or basement that isn't properly ventilated, there's a good chance that the moisture in those rooms are negatively affecting your air quality.

Air conditioners with clean filters can help your house stay dry and properly ventilated throughout the entire year. For people who live in warmer climates, air conditioning units can help ensure you keep your windows closed during the heat.

Open windows allow pollen and other allergens to enter your home and harm the air quality. If you're looking to add central air conditioning, it's important to note this: Only the amount spent above the value added to the house is eligible for a reimbursement claim through your FSA.

Verdict: FSA-eligible with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or healthcare provider.

Air filters

One of the most important things you can do to improve air quality in your home is to regularly change your air filters. If you don't have pets, you should change your air filter every 90 days. If you have one pet, the filter should be changed every 60 days. If you have more than one pet or struggle with allergies, the air filter should be changed every 30 days.

Another way to improve the air quality in your home is with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. These filters have a special mesh that traps mites, dust, and other particulars that can make it difficult to breathe properly.

Verdict: FSA-eligible with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or healthcare provider.

If you plan to use your FSA to pay for the products above, we recommend that you check with your FSA administrator first to see what they'll allow, and what paperwork is required to make it happen.

Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Photo by Coline Haslé on Unsplash

Asked and Answered: Does my FSA cover skin care treatment?

One of the many benefits of an FSA is that it covers everyday health care costs, which can range from regular medical checkups to blood pressure monitors.

But if you have an FSA, you may be wondering whether or not skin problems fall under standard healthcare expenses covered under your account. In other words, are dermatology treatments eligible expenses with your FSA?

Let's take a look at how skin care ailments are handled with an FSA, so you know what you can and can't pay for when dealing with these problems.

Which dermatology treatments are covered?

It's always important to remember that your FSA covers healthcare treatments that are defined by the IRS as medical care, which refers to health care services that can diagnose, mitigate, prevent, cure, and/or treat an injury, illness, disease, or symptoms of a disease.

Skin care treatments that are designed to alleviate a medical condition are covered with your FSA, including:

  • Dermatologist – Standard visits to a dermatologist to treat medical skin conditions are an eligible expense.
  • Acne – A condition resulting from oily skin and dead skin cells that causes pimples and bumps to grow on your face, ruining proms and selfies. Note: Acne medication will typically require an Rx for FSA-reimbursement.
  • Eczema – An inflammation of the skin that causes you to itch.*
  • Psoriasis – A condition that causes skin cells to form scales that are dry and itchy.*
  • Rosacea – A condition that causes red bumps on your face, similar to a deep rash.*

* An Rx may be required for FSA reimbursement.

But wait, there's more. Believe it or not, even Botox injections – yes, the same Botox that made red carpet interviews so fun these past few decades -- are an eligible expense if your doctor is using it to treat a medical condition such as excessive sweating, overactive bladder, and chronic migraines. This treatment may require a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN), so check with your FSA administrator on what may be required.

Prescription medication and other treatments for these conditions are eligible expenses, but depending on the type of treatment you need, you may have to get a doctor's prescription or an LMN to receive reimbursement for your expenses. But don't worry if you still have questions -- your FSA administrator can tell you whether the skin care treatment you need requires either of the above for reimbursement.

We've barely scratched the surface on the skin care products available to you. Want a quick snapshot of how many skin care products are FSA-eligible? Start here.

Skin treatments that aren't covered with your FSA

Any skin care treatment that's primarily for cosmetic purposes isn't covered by your FSA. These types of treatments are categorized as general health services that aren't considered medical care and not eligible for reimbursement with an FSA.

Examples of general health skin treatments include laser hair removal, facelifts, acid peels, chemical peels, laser resurfacing, and microdermabrasion. While these treatments may provide benefits for your skin, they aren't used primarily to diagnose, treat, mitigate, cure or prevent a medical condition.

Skin care isn't something you may think about very often, but with your FSA, you can schedule regular visits to a dermatologist to make sure that you're screened for something as potentially serious as skin cancer. So continue using sunscreen and other Use FSA-eligible skincare products (hello, light therapy!) to keep your skin healthy and to help maintain your overall health.


From FSA basics to the most specific account details, in our weekly Asked and Answered column, our team gets to the bottom of your most-pressing flex spending questions. It appears every Wednesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.