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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Zina KumokZina 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.
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.
Our mission at FSAstore.com is to help you maximize the potential of your flexible spending accounts and help you understand how critical an FSA can be in covering your family's healthcare needs. That's why we put together the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible products.
Products and services become qualified for FSA reimbursement when they have an inherent medical purpose. So, FSAs can potentially cover medical procedures that fall outside of your physician network or insurance co-pays. Here are a few medical procedures and specialties that you may be surprised to find are FSA-eligible!
- LASIK Eye Surgery
LASIK is one of the most common eye surgeries to correct vision issues. It utilizes a special cutting laser to change the shape of the cornea to improve the patient's vision, reports The Mayo Clinic. LASIK is typically a major expense and may or may not be covered by your insurance plan, but it can be covered in full with funds from your FSA.
- Chiropractic Treatment
Chiropractic treatment has persisted as an insurance coverage question for decades, but the IRS ruled that this treatment is FSA-eligible and can be paid for with tax-free funds. According to the American Chiropractic Association, chiropractic services are used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal issues, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain,pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches.
Acupuncture is primarily used as a form of pain relief, and while results may vary greatly between patients, promising results have emerged in the treatment of a number of specific medical conditions. For instance, acupuncture has proven effective in reducing nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, as well as reducing discomfort from dental pain and the rehabilitative process following major surgery, reports The Mayo Clinic.
According to the same Mayo Clinic article, acupuncture has also been known to relieve pain associated with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, labor pains, and muscle and joint injuries. So, as long as the treatment is deemed medically necessary by a doctor, acupuncture is FSA-eligible (although your benefits administrator may require certain types of supporting documentation to approve the charge).
Please note the differences between acupuncture and acupressure, which also falls within FSA guidelines.
- Smoking Cessation Programs
When it's finally time to kick your habit, smoking cessation programs can dramatically increase your chances of quitting for good. In addition to nicotine patches, inhalers and gums that are FSA-eligible (with a prescription from a doctor) smoking cessation programs is also an eligible service covered by an FSA. These programs are typically healthcare provider-assisted programs, but they can also be hosted by municipal, state and federal healthcare networks, nonprofits, and private institutions. Entry fees and other fees associated with the program would be eligible for FSA reimbursement.
Recovering from a major medical episode is not only reserved to just one's physical health. Supporting one's recovery with mental health services like counseling can aid the healing process and give patients the support they need to get well. As long as counseling services are directly related to one's medical treatment, the cost of these services would be eligible for FSA reimbursement.
For more information about what your benefit covers, explore the FSAstore.com Eligibility List and check our blog often for the latest news and information about your employee benefits!
*Note that not all FSAs cover all FSA-eligible expenses as they may be limited by the plan. Always check with your HR department or FSA benefits administrator on exactly what your FSA will cover.*
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!
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
It's mid-January. At this point you're either well on your way to sticking to your New Year's Resolutions - eating healthy, exercising more, quitting smoking, and saving money...and the list goes on - or maybe your regular routine is already in good shape. Either way, health plays a large role in our lives and it's no surprise then that New Year's Resolutions tend to be health-oriented.
So where does a flexible spending account (FSA) fit in with resolutions?
Quitting Smoking. If your New Year's resolution is to quit smoking, your flexible spending account will be able to help. Smoking cessation programs are FSA eligible and you can find FSA eligible smoking deterrent products to stall the habit.
Having an active lifestyle. Many people associate the New Year with a chance to lose weight or exercise. While weight-loss programs are not FSA eligible (unless necessary to treat a medical condition), maintaining good health is key to living a full life. Easily monitor your blood pressure, protect your skin while having fun in the sun, or treat your muscle strains in your quest to be the healthiest "you!"
Preparing for emergencies. No one likes to imagine doomsday scenarios (though we survived the "end" of the world), but having a first aid kit handy in emergencies doesn't hurt. Check out more first aid items here to be ready for anything.
Keeping your baby healthy & expanding your family. If you're expecting or already have a little one, you know how important it is to stay on top of your baby's happiness. We carry FSA eligible breast pumps that can be carried with you on-the-go, a pediatric kit containing a nasal aspirator and digital thermometer, and many more baby care products.
And, last but not least.... Saving money. An FSA is tax-free and can save you up to 40% on every dollar on qualified medical expenses! Find out how FSAs work from the FSA Learning Center.