Living Well

Take the time to truly relax (and use your FSA to make it happen)

By a show of hands, how many of you have really taken time to rest and relax lately? Now, I don't mean sleeping all day, or binge-watching Netflix until you can recite "Stranger Things" in three languages. I'm talking about letting your mind and body "turn off the noise," and truly be at ease, whether you're out with friends or alone with a good book.

There's a good chance most of us have forgotten how to block out those distractions, even on the most uneventful weekends. Whether it's parenting, work, financial concerns, or other stressors, the hectic nature of modern life keeps our brains working long after we've clocked out for the day.

It's time to give yourself permission to rest, relax and recharge. Below, we've highlighted a few ways (and a few products) to help you on the path to helping yourself achieve genuine relaxation, so you're ready for it even when life doesn't make it easy.

Set a leisurely pace, even when you're busy

It seems funny to begin a piece on relaxation with tips for the workplace, but people operate in cycles throughout the day, awake or asleep. These rhythms see us reaching peaks and valleys of energy and alertness, and also indicate when we need to take mental time-outs, to recharge our systems.

The problem is, most workplaces don't allow for much downtime, much less on an individual schedule. But, the more we can pay attention to these cycles, the more productive we'll be when alertness is a must.

According to productivity expert Tony Schwartz, when our bodies need to rest, they send out distinct signals, such as hunger, bouts of drowsiness, lack of focus and other distractions that can interfere with the average workday.

To counter these lapses, we can't rely on coffee to soldier through the downtimes. Instead, if possible, Schwartz recommends taking short breaks to reset focus, and regain clarity for the work that remains.

Relax your entire body

It's an unfortunate reality, but even when we think we're resting, we're not always addressing our entire body.

For some, trying alternative forms of treatment, such as yoga or acupuncture, could go a long way toward relieving some stressors you previously didn't know how to address.

Please keep in mind that both yoga and acupuncture are services that may be FSA-eligible with a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN) as provided by a medical professional (acupuncture may not require an LMN with some benefits administrators).

If these services are not covered by your FSA funds, then consider other ways to relax your body, such as acupressure mats and cushions, which are often covered without need for medical authorization. (Always check with your benefits administrator before purchasing, just to be sure.)

Don't just sleep a lot – sleep well

Let's face it, once Friday afternoon rolls around, your mind is probably focused on cramming in as much enjoyment as possible before Sunday evening. Which is fine, if that enjoyment allows your body to truly rest and revitalize itself.

But that doesn't happen too often. Happy hours, parties, concerts, sporting events, and the like are certainly fun, but these activities can be mentally and physically exhausting. And late nights out only interrupt restful sleep cycles.

We're not here to tell you not to go out from time to time. But, establishing a healthy sleep pattern is an ongoing process. One idea is to use your phone to set an alarm or reminder that indicates it's time to start your wind-down routine, or simply go straight to bed.

At first, you might feel strange being in bed so "early." But once you're curled up and comfortable, and wake up feeling altogether more rested, you'll probably wonder why you haven't tried this sooner.

In the long-term, we recommend establishing a reasonable bedtime, an appropriate waking hour, and allocating time in the morning to ease into a day with no rushing, urgency or distraction.

If you have trouble falling into a healthier sleep cycle, we recommend an FSA-eligible sleep mask. These devices can help block ambient light and other visual distractions from interfering with your rest time, as well as providing soothing aromatherapy to help you get to sleep faster.

And, if your doctor determines your sleep needs require medical attention, items such as melatonin or sleep-aid pills are FSA-eligible with a prescription.

We know it can be difficult to find balance between work, play and relaxation, but it's important to ensure work and play don't eliminate good rest from the equation. The best way to stay productive, alert and happy is to give your body the rest it needs, during your downtime and throughout the work week.

Basics

How does a Flexible Spending Account work?

Understanding health care coverage can get complicated very quickly. With the many options available to consumers ranging from HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) to HDHPs (High-Deductible Health Plans) to PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) to POS (Point of Service plans), it can be difficult to wrap your head around each. Not to mention that only few people read the fine print of their insurance policies.

More pressing concerns nowadays surround what health care covers and how much it'll cost people. People may not realize that they can actually save on health care in the long run.

Perks of an FSA

Through a Flexible Spending Account, or FSA, which is an employer-sponsored benefit add-on, consumers can set aside tax-free money towards qualified health care expenses. Not only that, but flex spending accounts can be applied to services not typically covered by your insurance policy!

    1. The money you set aside for qualified medical expenses is PRE-tax. You can save up to 40% on each dollar you put into your FSA.
    1. If you don't have an FSA, the money that would go towards qualified health care costs, is first deducted from your paycheck but after taxes (federal, and often state and local) have already been removed.
  1. Contributions to FSAs are not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Setting up Coverage

Each year, you select how much money will be put into your FSA during an open enrollment period. Your employer deducts amounts that will be taken out of your paychecks throughout the year. Sometimes your employer may decide to contribute to your FSA as well.

Shopping with an FSA

To use your FSA, your employer can offer you a special FSA debit card to be used at different retailers - including FSA Store - and health care providers. At times, you may have to submit receipts of your FSA expenses to your FSA administrator to clarify what you used your FSA for and if the expense is FSA-eligible.

You'll be paid out of your FSA by check or direct deposit. Make sure you carefully check your balance throughout the FSA year as you're limited to what you set aside. Read more about health care changes here.

Health Insurance & FSA

You can use your FSA towards out-of-pocket expenses for health care services including co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles. However, health insurance premiums do not qualify as expenses.

FSAStore.com featured in Crain's NY

Startup simplifies flexible spending accounts

FSAStore.com features thousands of eligible products and services, as well as listings of health care providers.

ByCara S. Trager
July 5, 2011 5:59 a.m.
Jeremy Miller’s research into flexible spending accounts drove him to make FSAs the centerpiece of his M.B.A. studies at Columbia University’s business school five years ago. FSAs allow workers to put aside pretax money from their wages each year to pay for health care products and services not covered by insurance policies.

Last year, Mr. Miller decided to capitalize on what he learned, launching FSAStore.com, an e-commerce site in Manhattan devoted solely to FSA-eligible items and services. The online hub features thousands of FSA-eligible products that it ships to customers within two to three days. It also lists a roster of 300,000 health care professionals, from acupuncturists to dentists, indicating which of their services are and aren’t FSA-eligible.

With 35 million Americans covered by flexible spending accounts—in which they lose money they don’t use by the end of the year, and thus are eager to drain—investors are paying attention. FSAStore.com garnered $800,000 in venture financing last May from an investor group led by Point Judith Capital, after securing about $125,000 in startup capital, including $60,000 from Menlo Park, Calif.-based angel investment fund Opal Moon, $25,000 from Columbia’s Eugene M. Lang Entrepreneurial Initiative Fund, and the remainder from family and friends.

David Martirano, co-founder and general partner at Point Judith Capital, said the “very confusing” environment surrounding FSAs provides FSAStore.com—as an exclusive purveyor of FSA-eligible products—with a “huge opportunity” to educate its customers and help them manage their FSAs.

FSAStore.com has so far attracted more than 5,000 registered users across the country, including 500 in New York. To help consumers make the most of the site, Mr. Miller has posted up-to-the-minute details about rules governing the spending benefit, including a thorny law that was enacted this year as part of health care reform. It requires FSA holders to get doctors’ prescriptions for over-the-counter items like Tylenol for reimbursement, and it makes paying for these OTC products with a debit card a multi-step process.

Therein lies a key challenge confronting the seven-employee firm—government regulation that may discourage people from using FSAs. “It seems that government is slowly, or not so slowly, strangling [Mr. Miller’s] business,” said Ira Davidson, director of Pace University’s Small Business Development Center.

Adding insult to injury, the new health care law places a $2,500 cap on health care FSAs in 2013; currently, employers are allowed to set the maximum annual savings for workers. According to J.D. Piro, principal and national practice leader with Aon Hewitt’s Health & Benefits Legal Practice, the average FSA held $1,460 last year, and account holders are tapping them to the greatest extent possible. “People are tending to cash out these accounts” because of the recession, he said.

Since last November, FSAStore.com has tweaked its website at least a half-dozen times to help account holders navigate the complicated benefit. It has, for instance, added color-coded icons that distinguish between FSA-eligible items and FSA-eligible medications that require a prescription, as well as a feature that enables customers to purchase both prescription and nonprescription items in one transaction but to pay with different FSA-permissible cards. “We cater to the account holder, making it simpler to use these accounts,” said Mr. Miller.

To keep his technology on the cutting edge, Mr. Miller recruited Azar Gurbanov, a classmate from Columbia who co-founded a telecom company in his native Azerbaijan, as a business partner and the firm’s chief operating officer.

So far, the startup has benefited from revenue-sharing partnerships with FSA-compliance administration companies that promote FSAStore.com to their account holders. FSAStore.com is on track to generate seven-digit revenues this year from both selling products and carrying ads for services such as Lasik surgery on its site, said Mr. Miller. To keep growing, however, he faces a formidable challenge: Continuing to outrun government regulations.