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/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, lumbar supports, 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.


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 necessary 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, only a handful of targeted vitamins have achieved FSA- and HSA-eligibility, provided the patients have documentation from their doctors claiming the need.

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 as many Americans know, working with the IRS is not nearly the nightmare people used to claim. And 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.

Glucosamine Chondroitin

Cushion bones and lubricate joints by taking glucosamine chondroitin daily.

Prenatal Vitamins

Keep mom and baby happy and healthy with daily prenatal vitamins for pregnant and nursing mothers.


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 Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Why an FSA is a must for arthritis sufferers

May signifies the arrival of Arthritis Awareness Month, a yearly initiative that aims to raise awareness of the importance of early detection of rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. While arthritis is sometimes thought of as a disease that affects only the elderly, the problem is much greater than a single demographic.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 American adults suffer from some form of arthritis, while a further two-thirds of this population are working age adults, ages 16-64.

It's those working adults that have to juggle pain management of their conditions with the rigors of everyday life that may be surprised to know that a flexible spending account (FSA) could provide an advantage to their arthritis care regimen. These consumer-directed healthcare accounts, which are offered by many employers, can help arthritis sufferers save on the products and medications they need most.

Here are a few of the best FSA-eligible products that arthritis sufferers can purchase with their FSA funds.

  1. Glucosamine/Chondroitin Supplements

Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally-occurring substances in the body that is found around cartilage in key joints. Over time as a natural result of aging, these compounds will begin to break down, which can adversely affect one's health. As a supplement, glucosamine and chondroitin are most often used together to combat joint deterioration that will over time help to reduce pain, improve joint flexibility and slow the progression of arthritis.

Check Out: Mason Natural Glucosamine Chondroitin Advance with Collagen & Hyaluronic Acid, Capsules 90 ea

  1. Arthritis Gloves

Compression therapy is a common technique to treat sore joints, especially for those who have rheumatoid arthritis that causes pain, joint stiffness and swelling that can impair hand function and interfere with daily activities. Arthritis gloves are a tried-and-tested method to provide light compression therapy to alleviate these symptoms. With light pressure on the joints and increased warmth, arthritis gloves can fight inflammation and increase circulation to combat chronic arthritis pain.

Check Out: IMAK Arthritis Gloves

  1. Moist Heat Ball

For those looking for a natural alternative to over-the-counter medications, moist heat therapy balls are a fantastic alternative. Much like a stress ball, these hand-held devices can gently work the underlying joints with mild exercise to promote circulation, while moist heat can fight inflammation and chronic pain. This is a great choice for office workers who can utilize this therapeutic method throughout the day.

Check Out: Bed Buddy Iso-Ball Moist Heat for Arthritis Pain

  1. Pain Relief Orthotics

Arthritis can affect many different parts of the body, and those with osteoarthritis can contend with chronic pain in the hips, knees and feet. As such, the right footwear can make all the difference, which is why pain relief orthotics are a smart buy. These orthotics absorb the impact from every step to ease the strain on joints and absorb the impact.

Check Out: Dr. Scholl's P.R.O. Pain Relief Orthotics for Arthritis, Men's Sizes 8-13 or Dr. Scholl's P.R.O. Arthritis Pain Relief Orthotics, Women's Sizes 6-10, 1 pr

  1. Knee Wraps

The knees are a pivotal joint in the body and chronic pain in these areas can dramatically affect a person's quality of life. Knee wraps are a great investment for FSA users that offer both heat and cold therapy to treat a wide range of ailments. Best of all, this device can be worn over the knee to provide continuous therapy as arthritis suffers go about their daily routine.

Check Out: TheraPearl Knee Wrap

For everything you need to stay healthy this Arthritis Awareness Month and beyond, visit FSAstore.com! We can show you how to spend FSA money on the qualifying health products that you and your loved ones need year-round.

Mason Natural Glucosamine Chondroitin

With collagen and hyaluronic acid, keep joints cushioned and protected.