Living Well

Is it time to quit smoking? How your FSA can help you through

We all want to change our bad habits, improve our lives and generally get healthier. Maybe it's because we've noticed that we don't have as much energy as we used to. Maybe our doctor mentioned something during our last physical.

But changing lifelong habits is harder than it seems, even if you really want to. Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things you can do - and it's not a simple process. For every person who quits cold turkey the first time, there's someone else who needed five tries. Everyone quits in their own way.

Quitting is hard enough, but you may be surprised by how much your FSA can help you through:

How Your FSA Can Help

If you're serious about quitting smoking, you'll likely need to invest in items to make the process easier. Most smoking cessation-related items and programs are qualified medical expenses and are FSA eligible. They include the following expenses:

Counseling and Behavioral Treatment

Counseling and behavioral treatments for smoking are FSA eligible. This can include both individual and group sessions. Sessions may also be covered even if they go beyond smoking-related topics. Check with your benefits administrator.

They're also FSA eligible even if your specific therapist or mental health worker doesn't accept your insurance.

Nicotine Patches

One of the most popular smoking cessation tools, nicotine patches are designed to slowly wean someone off smoking. Using nicotine patches can be more effective because quitting cold turkey has a low success rate.

Nicotine is the addictive element in cigarettes. There are different strengths of nicotine patches. At first, you might start with the strongest type of patch. Each patch is worn for 24 hours and then removed, discarded and replaced with a new patch.

Once you've used all the patches in one box, you can switch to a lower dose. Most of the popular brands have three different strengths with 21, 14 and 7 milligrams of nicotine.

Smokers who don't want to wear a patch can also use nicotine gum, lozenges or an inhaler. These are also FSA eligible. Many report success using multiple types of nicotine-replacement items, like a patch and a lozenge at the same time. Ask your doctor what they recommend and the downsides of each product.

Nicotine Nasal Sprays

These special nasal sprays deliver a hit of nicotine and are FSA eligible. Some studies show that using a nasal spray along with a patch can be more effective than the patch by itself.

Prescription Drugs

For some smokers, using a nicotine patch or gum isn't enough to stop the cravings, and they need prescription medication.

Two of the most popular are Bupropion and Chantix. Bupropion is technically an antidepressant, but has been helpful for those struggling to quit smoking. It alters some of the cravings that smokers get. Chantix is a medication specifically designed to inhibit nicotine receptors in the brain.

Prescriptions will be FSA eligible as well as the initial visit to your doctor.

Doctor's Visits

If you've tried quitting smoking before with no luck, try talking to your doctor. They may be willing to prescribe you medication or have some new suggestions.

What You Can't Buy with an FSA

Not all smoking cessation products are FSA eligible. Some FSA providers don't count group therapy sessions, but check with your specific administrator. Habit-tracking and specific smoking-related mobile apps are also not FSA eligible.

If you don't see a notice that says it's FSA eligible, do some research before using your FSA card to buy the item.

How to Sign Up for an FSA

If you're ready to quit smoking and want to save money in the process, sign up for an FSA. You can sign up for one during open enrollment, which is usually held in the fall, or during the plan year if you have a special qualifying event.

Special qualifying events include:

●Getting married, getting divorced or any other change in marital status

●Having a child

●Change in employment

You have to choose how much to save in your FSA when you sign up for an account. That figure should be fairly conservative because you can't change the contribution figure during the plan year unless you experience one of the qualifying events listed above.

How to Save on Smoking Cessation Items

There are other ways to save money beyond using your FSA.

Find Coupons

Many manufacturers have coupons for smoking cessation items like nicotine patches, gum, inhalers and lozenges. You can find the coupons online or in local paper. If possible, try to match the coupons to store sales for extra discounts.

Buy Generic

Like other medical supplies, there are name-brand products and generic versions. You can often save several dollars a box if you buy the generic version.

With nicotine patches, the only difference between the various brands is that some adhesives may work better for some people. If possible, keep your receipt and buy the patches from a store with a good return policy. They may let you return the patches if they don't stick as well.

Compare Prices

Almost every drugstore, grocery store pharmacy and warehouse club will sell smoking cessation products. But the prices may vary. Before you shop, compare prices on the items you like and see where to find the best deal.

In general, drugstores often have higher prices while grocery stores and warehouse clubs have better deals. The downside with warehouse clubs is that all the items are in bulk. If you don't need 300 pieces of nicotine gum, then you're better off buying a smaller pack at a regular store.

Look for Prescription Discounts

If you're buying a prescription medication and your insurance doesn't cover it, see if a coupon discount service has any lower rates. You may even pay less with a discount program even if your insurance does cover it.

You can also contact the manufacturer directly through their customer service department and ask for a coupon. Sometimes their customer service reps are happy to send one. You can also try reaching out on social media.

Quitting smoking is undoubtedly tough - so use every tool at your disposal, including your FSA dollars, to finally kick the habit for good.

Thanks for visiting the FSA Learning Center! To stay on top of all FSA news that can affect your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Zina Kumok

Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A Certified Financial Health Counselor and Student Loan Counselor, she also works as a money coach helping people one-on-one at Conscious Coins. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. She paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years.
Living Well

That's Eligible?! Clearing the air with OTC nicotine replacement therapies

I don't think we need to lead off this post by stating that smoking and tobacco use is a public health problem. You already know this. And we haven't been silent in our support of anyone who chooses to quit, for themselves and others. Since Thursday, November 21 is the annual Great American Smokeout, we thought this is a good time to remind readers that quitting smoking is always a good idea, and that an FSA can help make it happen.

Over the last 20 years, U.S. smokers made the following gains:

  • According to the FDA, more than 400,000 additional attempts to quit tobacco use per year
  • And there was a 152% increase in OTC nicotine replacement therapy use (after making the switch from prescription to OTC remedies)

It all comes down to the public having access to OTC nicotine replacement therapies; that is, the same levels of access as it does to cigarettes, chewing tobacco and other items that introduce (and prolong) the problem.

The average smoker takes 5-7 attempts to quit before succeeding. That sounds like a lot of trying … if you're not a smoker. Some respond quickly to nicotine replacement therapies and rid themselves of the habit. Others find themselves struggling -- even returning to the habit after earlier success.

How can I use my FSA to help quit smoking?

Thankfully, smoking cessation products are eligible for reimbursement with a FSA, or an HSA and a prescription. Most of these OTC smoking cessation products contain nicotine, which "steps down" over time until the dependence is minimal. The most common FSA- and HSA-eligible cessation products include:

  • Patches: These small, adhesive patches slowly release nicotine through the skin and into the wearer's body. They are changed daily and typically worn for 8-12 weeks.
  • Gum: These pieces of gum carry a small amount of nicotine that is absorbed into the body through the mouth, and can be taken every 1-2 hours. Treatment typically lasts 12 weeks or more.
  • Lozenges: Similar to nicotine gum, but decidedly slower to take effect, these lozenges allow nicotine to be absorbed through the mouth and into the bloodstream. Up to 20 can be taken each day. These lozenges also prove effective after 12 or more weeks of use.
  • Inhalers: These small vaporizers emit a nicotine mist via a cartridge in the device that is designed to control sudden cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Typically, a smoker will average about a dozen cartridges per day for 12 weeks, and gradually taper down to zero over the next 12 weeks.
  • Nasal Spray: These sprays deliver a small, mildly concentrated dose of nicotine up to three times per hour. This treatment can last anywhere from three to six months.

One last note -- we know it seems like the above OTC therapies seem to take a long time. This is normal, and done by design. Stepping down from tobacco products has proven to be more successful than "cold turkey" attempts, reducing the likelihood of starting up again.

Besides, think of how long you smoked. We can't speak for anyone, but we're confident most would agree that 12 weeks of sprays, compared to countless years of smoking, is a relatively short amount of time.

Some healthy lifestyle products to consider

Don't go it alone...

Your chances of kicking the habit grow considerably when you join a smoking cessation support group. These gatherings of like-minded individuals is great for sharing the highs and lows of this experience, making the chore of establishing goals and improve accountability for quitting a team effort.

These groups are typically free and open to the public, but if they're not, don't worry, it's FSA- and HSA-eligible as long as you have a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN) from a physician.

Quitting smoking isn't easy. But it can be made easier through available OTC nicotine replacement therapies. If you're a smoker and still deciding the best course of action for breaking the habit, talk to your doctor and see what products are best to help you snuff tobacco for good.

Living Well

How your FSA can help you lower your cholesterol

February is American Heart Month, an annual heart disease awareness initiative sponsored by the American Heart Association that is designed to educate the public about the lifestyle choices and behaviors that contribute to the development of heart disease. In particular, high cholesterol levels are to blame for a wealth of potential cardiac health issues, but many are unaware that their flexible spending account (FSA) can play a role in bringing cholesterol numbers back down to healthy levels.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that naturally occurs in the body, which plays a role in the production of hormones, vitamin D and other substances that help us digest foods. Additionally, cholesterol is found in the foods that we eat, primary those that are derived from animal products like eggs, liver, fish, butter, shellfish, shrimp, bacon, sausage, red meat and cheese. LDL and HDL levels, as well as one fifth of your triglyceride (the amount of fat in the blood) level, make up your total cholesterol count.

However, cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood, rather it is carried by particles called lipoproteins, molecules that are made of fat and proteins that carry cholesterol to and from cells. These are split into two major categories, HDL and LDL cholesterol.

  • LDL cholesterol is the type that you want to avoid. LDL, which stands for low-density lipoprotein, contributes to the thick deposits of plaque that can build up along the walls of arteries in a process called atherosclerosis. If this is allowed to progress, clots can form that can result in heart attacks, strokes and many other health problems.
  • HDL cholesterol is often considered to be the "good" type of cholesterol that counteracts the effects of LDL by helping to clear it from the arteries. HDL can carry this LDL away from the arteries and into the liver where it is broken down and flushed from the body. As such, having high HDL levels will reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

How can an FSA help lower my cholesterol?

An FSA can cover the necessary cardiac healthcare procedures that can help adults be mindful of their risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular issues. However, an FSA can also play a role in covering the cost of qualifying products that can assist in lowering harmful cholesterol levels. These FSA-eligible products include:

  • Smoking Cessation Products: Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol, can harm the lining of blood vessels, and can contribute to atherosclerosis. Both prescription medication and over-the-counter smoking cessation products like nicotine gum, inhalers and patches (which also require a prescription for purchase with an FSA) are FSA eligible and can dramatically help improve cholesterol numbers.
  • Cholesterol Home Test Kits: These kits are especially helpful for those who are embarking on a diet and exercise plan to lower their cholesterol numbers, and the standard kits contain a lancet for drawing blood and test strips that change color. Some more advanced kits contain electronic meters that are useful for those who wish to check their cholesterol more frequently.
  • Cholesterol-lowering medications: FSAs can cover the cost of prescription medications to treat medical conditions, and lowering cholesterol levels to prevent future heart problems is certainly an eligible treatment! The most common medications on the market are statins that lower both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which include medications like Lipitor, Lescol, Livalo, Crestor and more.
  • Diet and Exercise Aids: Last but not least, individuals with high cholesterol are encouraged to exercise and eat a healthier diet to prevent future cardiovascular issues, but not everyone is ready to get back in the gym after long periods of inactivity. FSAs cover a wide range of pain relief and therapeutic products that can help you stick to your new fitness regimen, including some kinesiology tapes, ankle/knee/elbow/back/hand braces, hot and cold packs, select foot cushioning treatments and much more! For more information about what's eligible, be sure to check our Eligibility List first!
Living Well

Quit smoking with your FSA

Curious about ways to quit smoking? Learn about how to quit smoking with your FSA during National Recovery Month on our blog.


Quit smoking with your FSA during National Recovery Month

Did you know that September hails the arrival of National Recovery Month? Every year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsors this initiative to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance abuse issues to celebrate the people who recover and continue to live healthfully.

Smoking is a form of substance abuse that's just as detrimental as any other. If you're a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) holder, your benefit covers the products and services that keep you and your family healthy, but it has no better use than helping you beat the bad habits that could be cutting your life short.

Here's how you can get your National Recovery Month success story started:

Smoking cessation groups

Your chances of kicking the habit grow exponentially when you join a group of like-minded individuals who are sharing the highs and lows of their experiences. That group mentality and accountability for one another can help you establish goals and gradually achieve them over time. These groups are typically free and open to the public, but if any charge is necessary, it can be covered by your benefit with a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN) from a physician. Read more about Letters of Medical Necessity.

Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-smoking products

There are various smoking cessation products on the market today that utilize nicotine replacement therapy. This refers to the nicotine gum, patches, inhalers and lozenges that satiate the body's desire for nicotine without using tobacco. Typically, these methods work well in tandem with behavioral therapy and support groups, and as they are OTC medicines, they will require a prescription from a doctor to be eligible for FSA reimbursement.

Use our Rx Process to submit your prescription for FSA reimbursement.

When going cold turkey, pursuing outside support and OTC anti-smoking products just won't cut it, it may be wise to speak with a doctor about anti-smoking medications like Chantix or Zyban. These medications can lessen the irritability, extreme cravings and discomfort that comes during nicotine withdrawal, which can give you the physical and mental reprieve needed to achieve your goal. Like any prescription medication, this will require documentation to be reimbursed through an FSA.

Shop for Smoking Cessation Products at FSA Store