Flex-Ed: Prioritizing wellness with FSA funds

It may be early in the year, but now is as good a time as any to start planning ahead so that you're not scrambling to use it all at the last minute. And if you're looking for a good way to utilize FSA funds, wellness is a good place to start. Keep in mind that your FSA funds can be used for your spouse and dependents too, so you can prioritize wellness for the whole family.

Although we're talking about using FSA funds in this article, you could also use HSA funds for any of these scenarios, too. But without yearly deadlines, there's isn't a need to figure out ways to use up an HSA. In the meantime, let's focus on flex spending.

Alleviate pain and protect your joints

Does "snap, crackle, pop" remind you more of your knees than a breakfast cereal? You can, of course, use your FSA to cover the out-of-pocket costs that go along with things like orthopedic care or physical therapy. But your FSA can go well beyond that when it comes to alleviating muscle and joint pain.

Although most supplements can't be purchased with FSA dollars, Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplements are an exception (as are prenatal vitamins). You don't even need a doctor's note, although it's always wise to talk with your doctor before starting to take any sort of supplements.

Ergonomic items — like height-adjustable desks that allow you to stand while you work, anti-fatigue mats, and specialized keyboards — can also be purchased with FSA funds if you obtain a letter of medical necessity from your doctor. And things like knee and wrist braces, and neck supports can be purchased with FSA funds even if you don't have a letter from your doctor.

And don't forget over-the-counter medications for pain relief that are fully eligible for purchase with FSA funds. For those looking to go the medicine-free route, there are a variety of drug-free pain relief items that can be purchased with an FSA.

Prioritize your mental health

Don't forget about your mental health. Mental health treatment is an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act, which means it's covered on all individual and small group health plans purchased since 2014.

Although large group plans aren't required to cover essential health benefits, they are subject to federal mental health parity requirements, which means that if they do offer mental health coverage — and most do — the benefit limitations can't be any less favorable than the benefits for medical/surgical treatment.

But that doesn't necessarily mean your insurance will pay for your mental health care. If you see a therapist, you'll likely have copays or need to meet your deductible — and that's assuming your therapist accepts your health insurance.

According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, only 55% of psychiatrists accept health insurance, whereas about 89% of other specialists do accept insurance. So mental health care can get expensive, even when you have high-quality health insurance.

That's where your tax-free funds can help. Keep in mind, however, that not all forms of therapy are considered medically necessary mental health care. As a general rule of thumb for FSA eligibility, the therapy has to be to treat a medical condition, as opposed to general wellness. But if your medical doctor writes a letter of medical necessity, the cost of various therapies, including hypnosis, can be reimbursed from an FSA.

Get a comprehensive physical

If your health insurance plan isn't grandfathered under the ACA, it covers a wide range of preventive care at no cost to you. But that doesn't mean that all preventive care is covered. During your checkup, you might choose to have some additional health and wellness tests that either come with some out-of-pocket costs or aren't covered at all by your health insurance. But by using your FSA, you'll be able to use pre-tax money to pay for the portion of your preventive care visit that your health plan doesn't fully cover.

Treat yourself!

If you've still got FSA funds leftover, remember you can buy yourself things like acupressure mats, soothing insoles, foot rollers and circulators, and even sunscreen, as long as it's SPF15+. That's if you have a specific medical need for these products, of course.

So if you find yourself with more FSA funds than expenses, keep in mind that there are plenty of wellness and self-care items that you can buy with your FSA funds before they expire. And don't forget to reevaluate your FSA contributions during open enrollment for the next plan year — it's still your money after all, and the goal is to optimize your contributions so that they cover your medical expenses but without too much left over.


New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our Flex-Ed column gives you a 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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