Flex-Ed: Clearing up the mysteries about vitamins and FSA/HSA eligibility

At first glance, vitamins and supplements seem like natural candidates for FSA- and HSA eligibility. They are designed to fill "gaps" in the average diet, and maybe offset minor nutritional deficiencies along the way -- yes, even those related to larger health problems.

But the IRS -- which governs FSA- and HSA-eligibility -- disagrees, while continuing to cite IRS 213(d), which states all FSA-eligible expenses must conform to the following standard:

"The diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body."

And this is where the arguments start. Arguments such as...

"My vitamins are necessary! Why am I being punished?"

Vitamins are perhaps the most-glaring example of a product that can either be medical or "dual-purpose." Daily multivitamins are used to promote better health and well-being, but because there's no specific health need or condition that is helped by using multivitamins, they fall outside the accepted qualifications for FSA- and HSA- eligibility.

Is there a medical basis for needing a multivitamin? Sure - it's for your health, after all. But promoting general well-being and treating a specific condition are two very different things in the eyes of the IRS.

In the past, we've used toothbrushes and floss as a good comparison point for the vitamin debate, and it still holds up. Though we all know proper dental cleaning is necessary for all-around health and wellness, using a toothbrush and floss has not been identified as having a direct role in treating or solving the specific medical condition.

"My vitamins are eligible? How did that happen?"

Though multivitamins are likely the most-popular OTC supplement, vitamins and supplements can only be reimburse through an FSA with a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN) from a doctor or other medical practitioner, outlining how the supplement would be used to treat a specific medical condition. However, there are two exceptions that are automatically eligible: prenatal vitamins and glucosamine/chondroitin supplements.

I think we can all agree prenatal vitamins meet the IRS requirements for eligibility, since they have shown to prevent birth defects and boost fetal development in ways that most modern diets can't quite seem to achieve.

Likewise, glucosamine/chondroitin supplements are extremely popular at FSAstore.com and HSAstore.com because of their proven benefits for treating arthritis.

Because the above exceptions have proven value in treating specific needs and conditions, they can be purchased with tax-free health dollars, and without any written approvals from physicians. However…

"Is there any chance they'll make an exception?"

We obviously can't answer that here. But if a doctor determines your body needs a specific vitamin supplement -- even if it falls outside of regular FSA or HSA parameters -- then a Letter of Medical Necessity might do the trick.

Chances are, the letter will need to be detailed in explaining why these specific products will benefit you, and how long the expected use will be (such as the duration of specific treatment). It's not a guarantee by any means, but a well-presented case made to your benefits administrator can go a long way toward getting the supplements you need, on a tax-free basis.

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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. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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