As the U.S. makes preparations to ride out the COVID-19 wave, millions of Americans with FSAs are turning to their employee benefits to help them cover the cost of qualified medical products for virus preparedness.
Our customer service team has received an overwhelming response from concerned customers, and we wanted to get on top of the biggest questions quickly so you can get the best info to prepare for COVID-19.
Are masks FSA-eligible?
Surgical masks and those designed to prevent the spread of pathogens like the N95 mask, are currently not FSA-eligible. However, there may be some cases when a benefits administrator may approve a mask as a "preventive health" expense, but these cases are rare.
But, the CDC recently called for all Americans to wear face masks in public to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and masks have emerged as a critical tool to stop community spread. While the IRS has not issued guidance on mask eligibility, we hope they will reconsider their status in the future.
Are surgical gloves FSA-eligible?
Surgical gloves are also not FSA-eligible, although without any clear guidance from the IRS, these too could be considered an eligible expense by some administrators. In most cases, it's best to check with your administrator first to check their eligibility status under your plan.
Is hand sanitizer FSA-eligible?
Hand sanitizer may be FSA-eligible, but it likely falls under a class of products that require a prescription to purchase with FSA funds. In accordance with regulations put forth in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), over-the-counter products that contain "medicated ingredients" require an Rx to purchase. The most common active ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol, and products must contain at least 60 percent alcohol to be considered antibacterial.
Other products such as rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are may also be FSA-eligible, but could falso require a prescription to be reimbursed through an FSA. To find out more about eligibility for these products, contact your FSA administrator.
Update (4.7.20): With the passage of the CARES Act, the prescription requirement for OTC medicines with an FSA/HSA has been lifted. However, hand sanitizer has not been made eligible at this time. We are appealing to the IRS for additional guidance in the hopes that this essential product be made available to tax-free healthcare consumers.
Are antibacterial products FSA-eligible?
Currently no. These are not considered qualified medical expenses but we are hopeful that they may be in the future. As always, we'll keep you posted if anything changes.
What are the best options to combat COVID-19 with my FSA?
In truth, the vast majority of preparations that the CDC recommends to combat the spread of COVID-19, such as washing hands, avoiding large crowds and wiping down commonly used surfaces with antibacterial products, are not practices that can be aided by your FSA at this juncture. The fact is, FSA regulations need to expand to allow for preventive products like hand sanitizer, antibacterial products and more to help combat this public health crisis.
FSAstore.com is taking direct steps to help FSA users:
We have recently launched our new Virus Preparedness category to ensure families can find the most popular FSA-eligible items purchased during flu season. In response to the growing pressure of the broader market, we have taken further steps as advocates of our tax-free health community to make virus preparedness our top priority.
- We will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each product found on the Virus Preparedness page to the CDC Foundation to support their response in combating COVID-19.
- Our Fair Price Pledge: During the public health emergency in the US caused by the 2019 coronavirus, we pledge to provide fair price protections for all items in our Virus Preparedness category. We will make every effort to keep a steady supply of these items available to our customers at current prices. Prices may increase, however, if market conditions require it, such as paying a premium to secure product during a supply shortage, expediting product shipments to our warehouses so you can receive them quicker or other similar situations.
- With millions of Americans struggling with the unexpected financial burden brought on by the coronavirus outbreak, FSAstore.com is looking to the IRS to clarify the eligibility status of key items like hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and more. It's our hope that the IRS will provide guidance so that FSA users will be able to confidently use their tax-free funds to cover these much-needed items.
With coronavirus cases surging around the globe and the United States beginning to see its first cases, this public health crisis has everyone taking a closer look at their state of health, hygiene and preparedness for a potential pandemic.
Here at FSAstore.com, we've already seen an uptick in interest in thermometers, respiratory therapy, vaporizers and nasal decongestants. The fact is, your flexible spending account (FSA) could be a great help in a time like this, and we want to give you all the tools and know-how you need to take full advantage of your tax-free healthcare benefits to safeguard you and your family's health.
What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Coronaviruses are a classification of respiratory viruses that were discovered in the 1960s and include conditions ranging from the common cold to more serious conditions like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The current strain that is causing issues all over the globe, COVID-19, is similar to the aforementioned strains but has unique qualities that are making it a uniquely difficult disease to prepare for, and we're still learning more and more about the virus each day (APIC).
Are virus preparation products FSA-eligible?
Some! FSAs are designed to help individuals and families cover the cost of qualified medical expenses, and there are a number of products available that can help you or your family get prepared. Many of the same items that can help ward off and treat seasonal flu viruses can be very handy in any virus preparedness plan.
We have created a Virus Preparedness page to help you get started.
How does coronavirus spread?
COVID-19 is spread person to person and through contact with infected surfaces and objects. However, the CDC warns that while it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads (CDC).
How do I protect myself from catching coronavirus (COVID-19)?
It's still flu season in much of the United States, and many of the same steps that we all take to avoid catching the flu can apply to coronavirus preparation - just a bit more top of mind and built into your daily routine. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Wash your hands! The risk of any virus can be reduced (sometimes by as much as 50%) by proper hand hygiene. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Can't wash your hands? Use a hand sanitizer. While not as effective as hand washing, in a pinch, a vigorous hand rub with sanitizer is better than nothing. APIC recommends an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Keep surfaces clean. Antibacterial wipes and sprays are a good start to keep your home's surfaces germ-free, and it may be smart to keep some in your backpack or purse when you're heading out. If you're looking for a DIY solution, a 1:10 bleach solution works in a pinch.
- Keep commonly used devices clean. How often are you washing your phone or keys? Use the aforementioned antibacterial wipes or a bottle of alcohol and cotton balls to do the trick.
- Keep tissues on hand. When you feel that sneeze coming on, direct it into a tissue or your arm to help prevent community spread. And be sure to dispose of those used tissues and wash your hands afterward at the first opportunity.
- Stay home if you're not feeling well. Don't risk it! If you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19., the CDC suggests calling your healthcare professional.
What are smart FSA-eligible purchases for coronavirus preparation?
Your FSA can play an important role in helping to boost your current state of health and treat virus-like symptoms should they arise. Here are few suggestions to keep in mind that are useful in any virus preparedness plan:
It may be wise to pick up a few newly eligible over-the-counter medicines to err on the safe side. Pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen, cold & allergy medicines like decongestants and expectorants will be great to have on-hand throughout cold & flu season.
Every home needs a good thermometer so you can stay on top of temperature readings for you or your loved ones and plan your treatment plan accordingly. With in-ear, forehead, infrared and more, there are plenty of options out there to suit your budget.
COVID-19 is a respiratory condition, as is seasonal influenza that can result in painful coughing, aches and pains. Vaporizers deliver targeted steam therapy to your breathing passages to clear mucus, soothe discomfort from coughing or a sore throat and clearing away environmental pollutants that may be present. If you're looking for something less time-consuming, saline sprays can work in a pinch.
Nasal irrigation with Neti pots and saline sprays are great options to have on-hand from common colds to more advanced conditions. Nasal irrigation is also extremely helpful in treating upper respiratory conditions to help clear breathing passages, remove environmental pollutants and ease inflammation.
Finally, if you do become sick, there are a few items you may be happy that you picked up in advance. Dual hot and cold packs for treating pain and inflammation, first aid kits for any emergencies and saline wipes are great options to help you ride out the worst of your illness.
Update: As of March 2020 with the passage of the CARES Act, the OTC Rx requirement has been repealed and prescriptions are no longer necessary to purchase over-the-counter medicines with an FSA or HSA. Additionally, menstrual care products like tampons and pads are fully FSA-/HSA-eligible. Learn more here.
Am I ready?
We encourage our readers to visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) website often for the latest updates on COVID-19 and the best actionable information you can use to safeguard your family.
COVID-19 is a definite concern and it's spread will be generally disruptive, difficult and possibly dangerous for some at-risk groups. But taking real steps to mitigate the effects it will have on you or your family isn't an overreaction — it's a responsible choice that your FSA can help you achieve.