Cotton Swabs: FSA Eligibility

Cotton Swabs: reimbursement is not eligible with a Flexible Savings Account (FSA)
Cotton swabs are not eligible for reimbursement with a flexible spending account (FSA), health savings account (HSA), health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), limited-purpose flexible spending account (LPFSA) or a dependent care flexible spending account (DCFSA).

What are cotton swaps and how are they used?

Cotton swabs, also known by their patent name "Q-tips," are one of the most popular personal grooming products on the market today used for everything from baby care to cosmetics to home cleaning. These small devices consist of a wooden, plastic or rolled paper handle that has small tufts of cotton on one or both sides for myriad household uses. Cotton swabs are generally not used for medical purposes, and therefore ineligible for reimbursement with a consumer directed healthcare account. However, cotton swabs can also serve a wide variety of uses in a medical setting, such as first aid. In limited circumstances, cotton swabs may be eligible with a Letter of Medical necessity (LMN) from a medical professional.

However, the vast majority of individuals use cotton swabs mainly for what these products warn against: cleaning the inside of one's ears. The medical community has strongly come out against cotton swab use in the ears for its potential to damage the ear canal and cotton swab manufacturers warn against this practice, but their use in ear cleaning has remained strong regardless (Healthy Hearing).

When were cotton swabs invented?

Today's modern cotton swabs were invented by Leo Gerstenzang in the 1920s, a Polish-American who developed the idea after watching his wife apply cotton wads to toothpicks in an attempt to clean their baby. Gerstenzang founded the Leo Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Company to market his new invention in 1923, and originally the product was dubbed "Baby Gays." In 1926, Gerstenzang changed the name of the product to "Q-tips," with the "q" standing for "quality," and this moniker became the permanent name shortly after. The popularity of Q-tips exploded in the 1940s and 1950s, as they became interwoven in Hollywood glamour and became a mainstay in the world of professional cosmetics in addition to their many household uses (Washington Post).

Today, cotton swabs come in countless designs, including those for at-home use and medical-type swabs that are used to take microbiological cultures. They can be used to swab for bacteria or viruses, to apply medicines to a targeted area, selectively remove substances from a specific area of the body or to apply cleaning substances. However, while they are extremely useful in a medical or home setting, they do not play a role in the treatment, diagnosis or prevention of a condition, and therefore are not eligible for reimbursement with consumer-directed healthcare accounts.

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