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Accounts

FSA Friday - 3/1/19 - The end of "one-size-fits-all" benefits packages

Happy March! Not only does today signify that we're just a little bit closer to thawing out from winter, but it also means the 3/15 Grace Period deadline is just two weeks away! If you're sitting on some remaining 2018 funds, now's the time to put them to good use.

(If you're still debating how to spend your leftover FSA dollars -- even if you have a good amount left -- don't stress. Our Deadline Buying Guide has been updated for the 3/15 Grace Period!)

Speaking of options -- some industry voices think that's exactly what's missing from today's employee benefit selection and that the time is right to make it happen. And you know what? We kind of agree...

Employee Benefit Packages Should Permit Personalization - Steff Chalk, 401kTV

Employee benefit packages are shifting toward personalization. And this is because of the people signing up for them. The "one-size-fits-all" approach was never an ideal fit for a contemporary workforce, but these inflexible plans are more out-of-date than ever before, due to so many different generations actively working today.

As the author (and Managing Editor of 401kTV) Steff Chalk reminds us, there are five distinct generations working today, each of which has equally distinct needs and wants. And with so many baby boomers remaining in the workplace, more customized health care and retirement options are at the top of the benefits want list.

In turn, Gen X'ers and millennials are a little more focused on work-life balance and career advancement, with younger millennials and Gen-Z members seeking tuition relief and job flexibility.

Unsurprisingly, this has created some benefits complications -- at least within the old-fashioned, uniform benefits model. Because of all this diversity within the workplace, HR teams have had to think on their feet to create not only more customizable benefits options that meet more needs for more people, but also increase communication and education opportunities for employees, so they know what options to make available.

From old-school focus groups to instant communication on social media, employers are finding out what workers want, and doing their best to appease all audiences on their payrolls. Because, by crafting benefits packages that can be crafted to the needs of more workers, companies can improve employee happiness, reduce turnover, and ensure happier a happier long-term workforce.

We encourage you to check out this opinion piece… and maybe share the link with your own management teams, in case you're looking for a little more customization in your own plans.

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FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Accounts

FSA Friday - 2/22/19 - American health care is #1 … for the wrong reasons

It's not exactly "breaking news" -- United States citizens spend more on health care than residents of ANY other country. And sadly, this trend isn't showing any signs of slowing, with health care costs rapidly approaching 20% of our overall national spending.

Would you hand over one out of every five dollars in your pocket for anything else? Probably not, but that's exactly what U.S. citizens are doing right now -- and what they'll likely continue to do for the next decade or more.

Health care spending in America to consume 1 in 5 U.S. dollars - Aimee Picchi, CBS News

In this brief, but eye-opening piece from CBS News, we learn that the steady growth of U.S. health spending is projecting to be nearly 20% of all spending by 2027. And it seems like it's because the health care we're paying for is working! Baby boomers are living longer, requiring more medical treatment as they continue to age.

Because of this, the same forecasts predict Medicare spending will be the biggest chunk of this projected growth, rising 7.6% each year until 2027.

We might not be economics experts, but we do know that the 5.5% average growth of health care spending year-over-year exceeds the overall growth in national spending by nearly a full percentage point, widening a gap that many experts still can't get their heads around. The next article tries to decipher it for us...

How Americans spend much more on health care than they realize - Philip Moeller, PBS

This short piece from PBS wastes no time getting to the point -- U.S. households spent $980 billion on health care in 2017, which works out to more than $3,200 per person, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' annual report on health spending.

As it turns out, consumers are only directly paying for a third of that total. Don't get too excited, though, since we're indirectly covering the remainder through federal and state taxes, premiums and other fees. And even though it seems like employers are footing most of the bill for worker health care benefits, when good insurance comes at the expense of higher paychecks, it's still coming out of employee pockets at the end of the day.

Thankfully, the article and report clearly detail where your dollars are going, so you have a better idea of what those paycheck deductions really mean as national health care spending continues to grow. Transparency is key -- we may not ever get used to handing over 20% of our own money just to handle health costs, but we certainly deserve to know why.

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FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Basics

FSA Friday - 2/1/19 - See where benefit costs go!

A picture is worth a thousand words. It might be a dated thing to say to an Instagram audience, but when it comes to adding some impact to data, it couldn't be more relevant. Especially when it comes to an area as confusing as health care costs.

This week's headline is built on that premise. Scott Wooldridge of BenefitsPRO gets to the bottom of a new analysis on the cost of employee benefits. And not just the overarching totals, but rather a clear view on how certain variables -- like geography, industry and size -- all affect the value of our benefit packages.

Breaking down benefit costs: 6 charts that show where the money goes - Scott Wooldridge, BenefitsPRO

The analysis was put together by Bay Alarm Medical, which published a report that compared a slate of employee benefits to overall costs of compensation (supplied by data on more than 27,000 roles and 6,600+ industries). The goal? To find out where companies are spending the most money on employee benefits.

We obviously won't repeat the report in full - they did a fantastic job on their own. So, here's a link to the full "Worth of Your Well-Being" report, followed by a few highlights we thought might be of some interest to you, starting with what the report calls 'the big picture.'

Overall cost of compensation

As the related chart points out clearly, almost 70% of employer compensation costs come from wages and salaries, with most of the remainder going to benefits -- an average of nearly $22,000 per employee, per year. Yet, health insurance covers just 7.5% of overall compensation, and other, more fringe benefits like student loan repayment are barely represented.

Benefit costs are increasing rapidly

This area saw a 28% growth over the last 14 years -- likely due to more chronic illness, aging workforces, and the higher costs of premiums.

The analysis finds that total costs of benefits to employers have increased 368% over that same 14 years. During that time, health benefit cost has increased by 28%, which the study attributes to chronic illness and rising costs from health care providers.

But it should be mentioned there was also a 161.8% boost in vacation use -- remember what we've been discussing each week about work/life balance being a factor to young employees? Well, now we have some visual data to back it up.

The charts and breakdowns are very well done and worth a look, even if you're just a little interested in seeing where your company might be allocating its money. After all, employees are a company's greatest asset -- and you deserve to know how they're investing in you.

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FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Basics

FSA Friday - 1/18/19 - Gauging and measuring employee wellness

For the last several months, we've taken a close look at the shifting priorities of modern workers. Not only discussing what employees want from their benefits, but also their motivations for doing so. However, we've never had much of an opportunity to see how these changing benefits are -- well -- benefiting the companies that made this happen.

This week, we do just that. Thanks to this article, centered on a Gallup study of employee engagement and wellness, we have a better idea of which shifts have had the most impact, and which areas still need some serious attention.

10 Timely Statistics About The Connection Between Employee Engagement And Wellness - Naz Beheshti, Forbes

Right from the outset, the author Beheshti sets a good tone for the piece, indicating that employee engagement is on the rise, topping out at 34% at the time of the survey. But then she asks a pivotal question: "...should we really settle for a situation where two-thirds of our workforce is still not fully engaged?"

The answer is (obviously) "no." Because, as good as it is to hear employee satisfaction is on the upswing, the effects of unhealthy, disengaged employees on workplaces are still damaging productivity in a very big way.

The author goes on to cite 10 key points from a Gallup survey that add some quantification to the still-ambiguous subject of employee wellness. We all know that engaged employees tend to be more productive - but now we have some more-recent data to support these claims.

Obviously, we can't highlight each of the 10 points here. But there are a handful of findings that caught our attention, as it relates to the work we do here.

First, the report found that "highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability."

That's right - 21%. And truthfully, we're a little surprised it isn't a touch higher. Because it all comes down to efficiency. As the author points out here, successful companies engage employees at all levels, increasing productivity, reducing the number of times workers call out, and limiting turnover. Happy employees like their work, and show up each day to do it.

The flip side to this approach? Well, check the "loss" column for more insights. As we learn here, disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year.

Billion.

Data culled from a collaboration known as The Engagement Institute -- which includes contributions from Deloitte, ROI, The Culture Works and more -- not only highlights the financial ramifications of disengaged employees, but also maps out the reasons why this is a crucial, but often overlooked part of organizational culture.

In short? Workers that are healthy are simply more productive, and believe in the work they do. Companies can foster these positive feelings by engaging employees at every level, from physical surroundings, to wellness programs and an increased focus on work-life balance, so they come to work refreshed and fully behind the company's mission.

There are a wealth of other meaningful findings in the article, including some salient points about how employee wellness programs are even permeating healthier home lives. It's a worthy read, no matter which side of the employer/employee relationship you reside.

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FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

FSA Friday - 1/11/19 - Healthcare spending is still all about price

What a headline, right? I mean, it makes sense -- one of the reasons healthcare spending continues to rise is because the costs are rising just as quickly. Despite countless healthcare policy reforms and system restructuring, the U.S. still pays more for healthcare than any other country in the world.

What's worse (and this might not be a surprise, either) we're not getting more for our money. Let's take a look at this week's article to shed a little more light.

Prices Still Responsible for High U.S. Healthcare Spending - Jacqueline LaPointe, REVCycle Intelligence

In 2003, authors Gerard F. Anderson, Peter Hussey, and Varduhi Petrosyan published what's now considered a landmark study of U.S. healthcare spending, "It's the Prices, Stupid." At the time, the U.S. was already leading the world in health spending, but at nearly half the cost we see today.

Because of this inexplicable growth, all three authors reunited for a follow-up study to see what's driving it, even after all the constant reforms and policy adjustments.

Well, it turns out some things never change. Using updated data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Anderson, Hussey and Petrosyan show that all the changes have delivered nearly identical results -- just with exponentially rising price tags in tow.

Some key takeaways:

  • U.S. healthcare spending per capita was $9,892 in 2016, up from just $4,559 in 2000, which was the time period in the 2003 article.
  • More recent U.S. spending level was 25% higher than that of Switzerland, 108% greater than Canada, and 145% higher than the OECD median.

To put it in a relative context, our nation spent 17.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare in 2016, nearly double the OECD median of 8.9%.

So, what are we getting for our hard-earned money? As it turns out, you don't always get what you pay for. Because the U.S. still devotes fewer healthcare resources, like physicians per capita, acute care beds per capita, and hospital admissions per capita.

To boot, we also saw 26% fewer hospital beds, 20% fewer practicing nurses, and 19% fewer practicing physicians per capita versus the median.

Some of the cost differential was attributed to private vs. public sector financing, which accounts for some of the wider gaps in costs -- sometimes up to 50% more for specific services.

The article does a good job breaking down the spending problems by diving into more acute detail about hospital mergers, Medicare funding and more. It's a dense read, but it's also a necessary one, considering that we're staring down the barrel of more reform. And, like most of you reading this, we're hopeful that 2019 will be the year things shift back toward the healthcare consumer.

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FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Basics

FSA Friday - 12/28/18 - The biggest flex spending stories of 2018

When all is said and done this coming Monday night, 2018 is going to be remembered as a landmark year for headlines. And healthcare benefits sat right in the heart of the matter. Over the course of the last year, we've covered a lot of news surrounding flexible spending accounts, healthcare benefits and overall wellness. But as the year progressed, several notable trends surfaced, and we started seeing these themes repeat themselves week after week.

There are too many topics to cover them all here. (Don't think we aren't thinking long and hard about millennial approaches to healthcare, or the rise of telehealth treatment!) But when our team looks back at 2018, we're going to remember these developments and trends.

Childcare costs are changing benefits decisions

Maybe writing about growing childcare costs isn't exactly surprising these days. But when we came across research that showed just how much these costs have grown in the last few years, it became a lot more headline-worthy.

American families need to be prepared for these expenses, so they can choose the benefit plans that best serve their needs, including potential tax-free options for child care. The following headlines were released within the same week, from two very different regions of the country, showing how widespread the concerns really were.

First, the USDA determined that child care has become the third-largest expense for families. Working with family website Care.com, this story broke down average family costs for child care. The numbers were even higher than we expected, creating issues for a large percentage of families who need these services.

We were happy to see that these articles recommended dependent care flexible spending accounts (DCFSAs) to encourage families to set aside tax-free money for child care expenses.

That said, Care.com estimated only 55% of families have and use DCFSAs, which could mean they're not comprehensive enough in their current form. But it might also imply families need to learn more about them. And then they need to decide at open enrollment just how much money they'll set aside, since they can't change it once the year begins.

Perhaps even more concerning is what we learned from a report from Child Care Aware, which estimated that if you have two children in daycare, you're likely paying as much or more for their care than you are on a mortgage.

They also found in many states parents are likely to spend as much on childcare for a young child as they would to pay for a year at an in-state university. They found annual childcare costs exceed $20,000 in 22 states. Parents pay the most for childcare in Massachusetts, paying more than $34,000 annually.

The ongoing battle for "menstrual equity"

"Menstrual equity" is a term most people weren't even aware of a few years ago, but it's one that now occupies a good chunk of the conversations around FSA eligibility.

One of the best articles we read on the subject was What Life Would Look Like Without the 'Tampon Tax' by Hannah Recht from Bloomberg. And it was also our favorite opening line of the calendar year -- "Band-aids—check. Condoms—check. Sunscreen—check. Tampons? Nope, sorry."

A little jaded? Maybe. But in the eyes of most FSA holders, the fact that feminine products aren't eligible makes no sense. While they're not ignoring it on Capitol Hill -- the House passed a bill in July that would add menstrual products to the list of FSA- and HSA-eligible products -- progress seems to be in a holding pattern.

The hangup seems to come from the purpose of these products. Because menstruation is considered a healthy function of the body, and not a medical condition to be treated, tampons and sanitary napkins technically don't qualify. This has become known as the "tampon tax" -- and from what we learn from this story, it's adding up for those affected by it.

The article illustrated just how expensive these products are -- up to 30% of a woman's budget for menstrual products goes to paying taxes -- making many wonder how much customers could save if the rules were adjusted.

New legislation sparks hope for the future of tax-free healthcare spending

This year, the House Ways & Means Committee voted in favor of a series of bills that would implement some major changes to consumer-directed healthcare plans, including FSAs and HSAs. While these changes are nowhere near the finish line, this legislation has our attention.

Under current IRS rules, FSA owners can carry unused balances of $500 or less into the following year. But, if this proposed legislation passes, all unused balances -- regardless of size -- can be carried forward to the following year.

In other words, it could be the end of "use-it-or-lose-it" as we know it. If passed, these changes could give FSA holders a lot more freedom to save and spend what they want, without rushing to meet deadlines.

Another big change was a rethinking of eligibility and accessibility, potentially lifting a lot of the paperwork around prescription requirements, and even feminine care products (like we mentioned a few paragraphs ago).

The reasoning for change is sound, since authors, employers and experts all seem to agree these changes would boost consumerism and enhance supplementary healthcare coverage for the public. We're still a long way from these bills being made into law. But they could bring major changes to the way our FSAs function.

Here's hoping we're discussing that very headline in 2019. Until then, Happy New Year from everyone at FSAstore.com!

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Living Well

FSA Friday - 12/21/18 - Why are people skipping necessary healthcare treatments?

Healthcare costs are rising -- this we already know (and have for a long time). But it seems like this exponentially growing burden isn't just a financial problem anymore -- it's affecting the everyday well-being of patients in need.

Let's dive into this week's headline to learn a little more...

17% of Families Make at Least One Large Healthcare Payment a Year - Jacqueline LaPointe, Revcycle Intelligence

According to this alarming piece from Revcycle Intelligence, families are choosing to delay necessary medical care until they can afford large payments, not only affecting their wellness, but also the bottom lines of healthcare providers.

The JPMorgan Chase Institute determined that one in six families make at least one "extraordinary" healthcare payment each year (which is defined as "at least $400 and up to 1% of annual income." And the average payment amount exceeded $2,000.

It seems like people are either choosing to save their money before seeking medical help, potentially putting off necessary treatments solely for the sake of finances. That's why it's no surprise that healthcare visits and spending get a boost every March and April, when most US citizens receive their tax refunds.

In fact, about 70% of tax filers receive a refund, which represented the largest cash intake of the year for approximately 40% of individuals in the Out-of-Pocket Spending Panel. Within a week after receiving their tax refunds, surveyed individuals increased healthcare visits and spending by 60%.

Of course, much of this excess spending could be avoided if patients sought care at the time of need, and not just when their finances allow. The article suggests that more patient-friendly billing and collection strategies could encourage people to stay on top of their health without so much worry about the bills that follow.

The author goes on to say that less-complex billing strategies would encourage those who are on the fence to seek treatment as needed, leading to better patient outcomes, and more consistent revenue for healthcare workers and facilities.

We can't help but wonder if combining these billing strategies with flexible spending accounts could ease these burdens even further, promoting healthier lifestyles regardless of income or tax bracket.

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Basics

FSA Friday - 12/14/18 - Americans getting less healthcare, still paying more for it

"Affordable healthcare." To many Americans, those words are practically an oxymoron. Despite what we assume to be everyone's best efforts, people still struggle to afford anything but the most basic care services, even if they have adequate coverage.

And it's a trend that might be here a while… at least if this week's headlines are any indication. Because, as we're learning, far too many Americans are putting off healthcare services strictly due to cost. And yet, the average healthcare cost-per-person still rose this past year. Let's see what's going on.

20% of Americans are deferring healthcare because of cost, poll finds - Kelly Gooch, Becker's Healthcare

According to an NPR-IBM Watson Health poll, which surveyed more than 3,000 households, 20% of respondents were putting off treatments and visits due to out-of-pocket costs. And it's not just checkups -- important services were being delayed for the same reasons.

Unsurprisingly, younger (under 35) respondents led the charge here. We've spent a good amount of bandwidth discussing millennials and their perspectives on modern healthcare. But we never expected such a large percentage of them to avoid doctors because of costs. Yet a massive 34% of those surveyed admitted to just that.

Even more alarming, 41% of respondents under 35 said the same struggles extended to members of their households, as well.

The article gets more granular with the figures, discussing prescription drug costs and the notable differences between age groups. It's a sobering read, to say the least.

Americans spent $10,739 per person on health care in 2017 - Marlene Satter, BenefitsPRO

Healthcare cost and wellness is certainly becoming a vicious cycle. Because premiums, deductibles and prescription costs all continue to rise, regardless of adoption rates. And the largest hits are affecting those who don't have employer-sponsored benefits, and have to pay for healthcare themselves.

And because fewer people are adopting health benefits, costs of services and medications will continue to rise until a better balance can be achieved.

With some frightening detail about the specifics of this problem, the article is well worth your time.

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FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Accounts

FSA Friday - 12/7/18 - Change is on the horizon for benefits in 2019

If you go back into the FSA Friday archives, there's one word that seems to appear in headlines more than most -- change. And why wouldn't it? After all, tax-free healthcare accounts changed consumer health. Plus, FSAs certainly change the way people approach their budgeting and planning.

And on a larger scale, the employee benefit landscape always seems to be looking forward, hoping for challenges to become accomplishments, and positive trends to become realities. This week's headlines cover some more trends and predictions for the coming year.

Part-timers are gaining ground in employee benefits - Valerie Bolden-Barrett, HRDive

According to the article, employers are shifting toward extending benefits to part-time workers. The Flexible Work Arrangements: 2017 Survey Report found that 78% of organizations employ part-time workers, and 90% of those organizations define part-time work as fewer than 30 hours a week.

Of the benefits discussed, the most favorable were (unsurprisingly) healthcare coverage (54%), prescription drug coverage (53%), dental and vision care (52%), flexible spending accounts (47%) and health savings accounts (33%).

Plus, paid leave benefits offered to part-time employees included holidays, bereavement leave, sick pay, short-term disability, maternity leave, parental/family leave and personal leave.

This is a growing trend in this burgeoning "gig economy" -- and we don't see that changing anytime soon.

Top 10 HR challenges of 2019 - Nick Otto, Employee Benefit News

This time of year always brings out the "prediction" and "reflection" articles -- culling wisdom from the year that was, and applying it to the year to come. These pieces might be speculation, but they offer some good insights into the state of different industries. Especially when it comes to attracting and retaining quality workers.

According to this article, this challenge is going to persist into 2019, and will continue to be difficult to administer as employers enforce compliance with laws like the ACA, ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA and GINA. As benefit managers reevaluate benefit strategies, the report also suggests benefits be tailored according to the needs and interest of multiple generations.

Staying on top of the news cycle is a great first step, but you should also be mindful of what to look for. News alerts are a great way to start, and EBN predicts action on joint employment, overtime exemptions, GINA and wellness benefits and of course, further action on the Affordable Care Act. Or you can just follow this column, we'll have you covered.

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Basics

FSA Friday - 11/23/18 - Is healthcare getting a "millennial makeover?"

Millennials have been a hot topic in the world of consumer healthcare. Not only in our Learning Centers, but throughout the media. And with good reason. For most of the last decade, this age group has maintained the highest uninsured rate of any other demographic. The reasons for this vary, but a lot of it has to do with value and affordability.

Thankfully, it looks like things are starting to change. Because, even with a 20% drop in enrollment on Healthcare.gov from this point in 2017, enrollments for millennials is on the rise. And companies marketing their healthcare products and services seem to be ready to accommodate them.

Millennial Health Insurance Sales On The Upswing - MarketWatch

According to this article, the average age of enrollees dropped a full year, from 39 to 38. On the surface, it doesn't seem all that impressive. But to drop a full year in one flip of the calendar is notable, because it's indicating that younger people are seeing more value in buying insurance … and more affordability to make it happen.

While this is good news, accessible, cost-effective healthcare is still a "unicorn" for young employees -- many of whom turn to more-affordable short-term coverage for emergencies, rather than more-thorough (and expensive) plan options available through the Marketplace.

We agree that having partial insurance is better than no coverage at all, this gap needs to be narrowed so more workers can settle into full-year insurance plans, that cover more needs, while remaining affordable for all income levels.

Direct-to-Consumer Healthcare Gets a Millennial Makeover - Leslie Barrie, Skift

Millennial-themed product marketing is nothing new. But healthcare companies have mostly steered clear of catering to this generation, even if millennials represent the largest segment of today's working (and buying) audience.

Unlike other generations millennials have shown themselves to be less trusting of traditional marketing tactics. Whether this age group is booking a doctor's appointment, researching symptoms and treatment options, or scouring through service reviews, millennials do their homework, and they typically turn to the internet for answers. As this generation's purchasing power and influence continue to grow, they are slowly redefining the rules of consumer healthcare marketing.

So, when companies like Hims (highlighted in the article) adapted its brands to cut through the noise and speak on a millennial level, the results started to show. The company, which gives customers easier access to generic medications about touchy topics, like erectile dysfunction and hair loss, gets right to the point without losing sight of millennials' primary pain point -- cost and ease-of-access.

Given the growth of Hims (and new imprint Hers) we fully expect this more-direct, less-fear-inducing approach to healthcare to start showing up in a lot of other places.

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Basics

FSA Friday - 11/16/18 - "Hey, Alexa … get me some benefits!"

It's no secret that technology will drive the future of benefits enrollment. And we don't just mean online form submission. Today, personal assistants, interactive guides and "at-the-ready" 1:1 counselors are popping up everywhere to make sure you make the most of your benefits for the upcoming year.

Change is good, and that's why I was intrigued by this week's headline, which discusses a personal digital assistant that's making waves for more than 1,000 companies nationwide.

Will People Flock to the Alexa for Employee Benefits? - Molly Fosco, OZY

Now, I'm not sure if this headline contained an honest typo, or a clever push for SEO, but I quickly realized that this piece from OZY wasn't actually about Amazon's ubiquitous home assistant. Rather, this is about the founder and focus behind Alex, a similarly designed (and named) assistant, specific to benefits enrollment.

But Alex is no trend-hopping gimmick. As of 2017, the platform was responsible for helping customers make decisions affecting $110 billion worth of insurance premiums across 1,000+ U.S. companies.

(And to think, I only use my digital assistant for pancake recipes and Spotify playlists…)

Launched in 2013 by Jellyvision, a company best known for popular PC video games like "You Don't Know Jack," Alex has grown steadily, and continues to earn the trust of new users. The reason for this is simplicity -- customers have questions, and with each update, Alex has more answers leading to easier, less-frustrating decisions.

In fact, according to a senior HR specialist for Hershey, "Employees trust [Alex] because it's unadulterated advice."

While artificial intelligence still has a ways to go before fully integrating into our lives (IBM's Watson never quite passed its pre-med exams, did it?) devices like Google Home and Alexa are becoming more ingrained in our planning each day. To the point that AI mistakes are far less of a concern than human error.

Though the article's headline might be a (purposeful) typo, it's not far-fetched to think that those talking speakers in our kitchens might soon be able to perform the same types of roles in our benefit enrollment, delivering targeted advice that turns machine learning into better human wellness.

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Basics

FSA Friday: 2019 benefit contribution limits announced… except for one

October came and went in a flash, didn't it? It seems like just yesterday people were upset that summer was ending, and now we're already making holiday shopping plans. But in our little corner of the healthcare and finance world, October is usually when the IRS announces its healthcare benefit adjustments for the coming year.

They came a little later than expected, but the 2019 benefit limits are finally here. Well, all of them except one. And yeah, it's the one we want to know about most -- the 2019 FSA contribution limits.

We don't know why many other contribution numbers have been updated except for FSAs, but considering the upward trends demonstrated in other categories, there's reason to be optimistic about tax-free healthcare funds in 2019.

The IRS Announces Updated Limitations Related to Employer Plans; 401(k) Contribution Limit Increases to $19,000 for 2019 - Dickinson Wright, Lexology

Retirement planners, rejoice! The IRS is giving you a well-deserved bump for 2019! Not only are 2019 HSA limits rising, but 401(k), 403(b) and 457 plan owners will see a $500 bump to their annual elective deferral limits. Taxpayers will be allowed to contribute up to $19,000 before taxes in 2019 into these accounts.

Even though the IRS kept the catch-up contribution limit at $6,000, this $500 boost will certainly be welcome by anyone looking to maximize their retirement funds.

Traditional IRA and ROTH IRA owners will enjoy a $500 boost of their own, with $6000 as the new contribution limit in 2019.

(We probably don't need to tell you what all these numbers mean, but we will anyway -- lower tax bills and more retirement savings.)

If you're self-employed, retirement funding is about to get easier, too. Now you can save an extra $1,000 into your own retirement accounts (increasing to $56,000 in 2019). These contributions will be determined by actual income, up to a maximum of $280,000, which is a $5,000 increase over this year.

We may have exaggerated a BIT in our own headline, since we're still waiting for announcements for few other 2019 adjustments - not just FSAs. This includes important items like federal income-tax brackets and potential changes to the standard deduction. And obviously, expected increases to flexible spending account contributions, which several sources are projecting to be $2,700.

Of course, as soon as we get the news, we'll share it here and on our social media platforms.

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Basics

FSA Friday - 11/2/18 - A real-world look at FSAs and the cost of feminine products

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.


"Menstrual equity" - this is a term I wasn't even aware of a few years ago, but now occupies a good chunk of the conversations I have when discussing flexible spending account (FSA) eligibility.

And with good reason! While we love that so many products and services are able to be covered with tax-free funds, there's no doubt that some things probably deserve more consideration.

Since this is an ongoing debate -- one that we're likely to continue covering until changes are made -- let's take another look at the subject … this time, from a dollars and cents perspective.

What Life Would Look Like Without the 'Tampon Tax' - Hannah Recht, Bloomberg

It's pretty clear where Bloomberg stands on the subject, given how author Hannah Recht opens this piece: "Band-aids—check. Condoms—check. Sunscreen—check. Tampons? Nope, sorry."

We'll admit it, that's about as strong an opening line as you could want from an article about healthcare finance. But this discussion of qualification and eligibility affords writers a little more emotion than usual. Because in the eyes of most FSA holders, the fact that feminine products like tampons aren't eligible makes no sense, even if the IRS currently disagrees.

(To be fair, they're not ignoring it on Capitol Hill -- the House passed a bill in July that would add menstrual products to the list of FSA- and HSA-eligible products. But the Senate hasn't yet addressed the bill.)

To recap, because periods are considered a healthy function of the body, and not a medical condition to be treated, tampons and sanitary napkins technically don't qualify.

So, even though most women will use these products regularly, they're not eligible for the savings FSA and HSA owners enjoy for other qualified medical items. It's become known as the "tampon tax" -- and from what we learn in the article, it's adding up for those affected by it.

In the article, Recht goes into painstaking detail (with supporting visuals) to illustrate just how expensive these products are… and how much customers could save if the IRS changed its stance on eligibility.

We can't cover them all here (we strongly encourage you to read the article) but one number that jumped at us immediately is how this rule means up to 30% of a woman's budget for menstrual products goes to paying taxes for the items.

After payroll taxes are deducted from the paycheck, customers still need to pay sales tax on tampons, which dramatically lowers the amount of product they'll get for their money. In situations where money is tight and budgeting is a concern, buying tampons shouldn't be something they need to worry about. But that's exactly what it's become.

With 14% of American girls and women living below the poverty line, this need is only growing across the nation.

What's interesting is that some states (like Nevada) are considering waiving sales tax on menstrual products to help alleviate these costs. But the future of this proposal isn't clear. It was attempted in California, but vetoed shortly after.

This hot-button issue isn't likely to be resolved right away, but articles like this can only help shed some real-world light on a topic that's been shrugged off for far too long. Check out this article to see how well the finances are broken down.

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.