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Real Money: What's the deal with FSAs and weight loss programs?

Maintaining a healthy weight has a whole heap of benefits, one of which is warding off medical conditions. Diet and exercise is important whether you're just looking to fit into your jeans or keep up with your little ones. Sometimes you need a little push and signing up for a weight loss program could help keep you accountable and increases your chances of success.

Well, weight loss programs don't qualify for FSA reimbursement at this time. You can only use your FSA funds for weight loss programs in very limited circumstances, and even then, you will likely need to provide extensive documentation in order to be reimbursed. Before signing up for any type of weight loss program in which you plan to use your FSA funds, make sure to talk with your FSA plan administrator.

So, what weight loss products and services are eligible?

Like any other health care product, you're only able to use your FSA funds for a weight loss program if the purpose is to treat, mitigate, cure, diagnose or prevent a specific illness. This condition needs to be diagnosed by a physician and may include conditions such as obesity, heart disease and hypertension. In short, if you're doing it to fit into those jeans, that's not going to make the cut.

Once your physician does state that you should lose weight specifically to treat an illness, there may be related expenses that will qualify for FSA reimbursement. (Emphasis on "may.") This may include membership fees for a weight loss program and attending meetings. Gym, health club and spa memberships could be tougher to get approved, but you may be able to use your FSA on fees for weight loss activities with supporting documentation submitted to your administrator.

If your physician prescribes food that will help you treat your illness, you may be able to deduct a portion of that expense as well. The food can't just be part of your regular diet and must be for the purpose for treating the illness.

In other words, diet pills and meal substitutes probably won't count as an FSA-qualified special food. If there is a special food specifically prescribed to treat your condition, and the cost of that food is more than the cost of a similar food, you may be able to be reimbursed for the difference in cost.

Some FSAs may require a letter of medical necessity or similar form of documentation in order to be able to be reimbursed for these expenses. This letter basically verifies that your weight loss program or special food is specifically for the treatment of a disease. As each FSA administrator has different requirements, you'll want to check with them first on exactly what this letter will need to include.

How much can I submit for FSA reimbursement?

You can only submit FSA expenses that qualify for reimbursement as outlined previously, and only up to the amount you have elected to contribute to your FSA.

If you're interested in losing weight for health reasons, it's best to speak with your doctor beforehand. He or she will be able to assess your situation and see what programs or regiments will help. And if you're interested in involving your FSA with that weight loss goal, you definitely want to check in with your FSA administrator on what might qualify.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, 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

5 easy ways to improve cardiac health during American Heart Month

American Heart Month is here, an event held each February to spread awareness and educate individuals and families about the dangers of cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association's 2016 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update, 1 of every 3 deaths in the United States was caused by heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases in 2013 alone. While death rates have fallen significantly in recent decades, these numbers are still far too high.

At FSAstore.com, we are glad to support the mission of American Heart Month to help give our customers the tools and knowledge to make healthier choices for the future, and this month we'll be focusing on the small changes that can add up to a big difference in terms of your cardiac health. Don't know where to start? Here are a few changes you can make this month to build a stronger foundation for the future.

  1. Talk with your Doctor

We're not a doctor, and the best medical advice you can receive is from a doctor who can help you create the best plan to combat and prevent future heart related health issues. Some of the most vital diagnostic tests that can reveal the current state of your heart health are non-invasive and can be completed in an outpatient setting, so any attempt to improve your cardiac health should start at the doctor's office!

  1. If Weight Loss is on Your Agenda, Cut down on liquid calories

Whether you're a fan of soda, sugary fruit juices or other calorie-laden beverages, simply cutting one of these beverages out of your day and replacing it with a glass of water can save you up to 100 calories daily. Over the course of year, that could add up to multiple pounds in weight loss!

  1. Take a walk

Adults 19-64 should aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week, but if you don't exercise at all, taking daily walks can be a great way to get started. A 10-minute walk each day can get your heart rate up and your blood flowing to incorporate more physical activity into your routine.

  1. Meditation/Deep Breathing

Taking deep breaths is known to lower your blood pressure, and this can be a welcome addition to your daily routine to ease your stress levels, and in turn improve your cardiac health. A few minutes a day of slow, deep breathing or setting aside an hour for meditation can make a major difference for hypertension sufferers and prevent heart damage caused by excessive stress.

  1. Enhance your diet

One or two small dietary changes can make a lasting difference for your cardiac health as well! Make a commitment to eating breakfast daily with whole grains and fruit, add an extra veggie or piece of fruit to your snacking routine and try a red meat alternative (chicken, fish, vegetarian) once a week to round out your healthier diet.

For all of your family's health needs year-round, be sure to visit FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible items to help you maximize the potential of your employee benefits!