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.

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