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.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Taking wellness benefits beyond the workplace

Just when we were getting used to writing "employee wellness programs" it looks like things are changing a bit! Now, in an interesting development for the growing marketplace, individual buyers may be able to enroll in wellness benefits through state-run or specialty programs.

These offerings may not be common just yet, but this headline caught our attention. Let's dive in.

Health-Contingent Wellness Programs Enter Individual Marketplace - Kelsey Waddill, Health Payer Intelligence

According to the article, states that choose to participate will allow buyers to enroll in individual wellness benefits programs -- not only to improve health, but also to help lower health care costs. And the states even have some flexibility, with the option to package benefits as cost savings on premiums, or different types of financial incentives.

Of course, there's an approval process determined by each state. But as long as proposed programs meet the same standards as employer-based wellness rewards, there should be no problems with alignment.

For example, if a proposed plan design is based on healthy outcomes, "the desired outcome must be attainable and must have an alternative for those who cannot achieve it for health-related reasons" according to the author.

Additionally, all participating states must restrict their wellness program rewards to 30% of the individual health plan's cost. The only exception is if the wellness program includes tobacco prevention or cessation elements.

And most importantly, proposed wellness benefits can't negatively affect health care coverage to participants.

We're going to keep a close eye on this. While we're unclear how goals-based wellness incentives can efficiently be tracked, we're always happy to see the burgeoning wellness benefits market grow, allowing more people to reap rewards for positive growth. We'll report back if--and when-- these state-run programs expand to more people in more locations.

Wellness necessities

A&D UltraConnect Wireless Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor

Smart Connect automatically detects and syncs measurements between the monitor and the A&DConnect App.


Caring Mill™ Bundle

This set features the best Caring Mill products that are perfect for any household or family. There is something for everyone in this bundle!



Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. 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 and Twitter.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Are wellness programs really succeeding?

Normally, we lead off these Friday recaps with a quick introduction, setting the table for the news at hand. This week, we're going to change the format and lead with a quote from the article, instead.

"... research suggests most workplace wellness programs are a waste of money."

While we're not going to say we agree with this sentiment, this week's article does raise a few interesting points about these programs, and how they might be able to evolve to live up to their initial promise.

Why Workplace Wellness Programs Aren't Working - Serenity Gibbons, ThriveGlobal

According to author Serenity Gibbons, (an equal rights advocate and former assistant editor at the Wall Street Journal) current wellness programs are too focused on physical health, but aren't accounting for "the whole person." And, as a result, this lack of overall well-being is rendering these programs ineffective for TEAM wellness.

To drive this point home, Gibbons reminds us of a joint Harvard University/University of Chicago study that showed wellness programs had no impact on employee health improvement, employer health spending, or time off of work. In other words, the primary goals of wellness programs weren't being met.

To rectify this, Gibbons recommends a larger focus on some key areas -- areas that encompass overall wellness, and not just physical fitness. We obviously can't cover them all here (that's what the article link is for), so we'll just highlight some of the more-surprising suggestions made in the piece.

Working to prevent employee burnout

Moving past general mental and emotional wellness, Gibbons feels burnout is a major problem for today's workers. And that is often caused by a lack of direction and challenge coming from above. By establishing professional wellness goals within these programs, she feels employees will come to work more focused on both immediate work and long-term career goals. But this isn't just 'career coaching' -- it's reminding employees of their value, while valuing their own needs.

Spiritual guidance… at work?

This entry surprised me a bit, since it's rare to see religion or spirituality ever discussed within the workplace. But Gibbons feels strongly about how spiritual people tend to be more motivated and community-minded, which carries over to work ethic and performance.

While no one is suggesting employers should organize in-office worship -- spirituality is far too personal, after all -- Gibbons sees some benefit in allowing workers to take breaks for prayer, meditations or even organizing worship sessions, as long as it doesn't affect work or the workplace.

The article goes on to highlight more unique ways to address employee health. No one is doubting that healthier employees are generally happier ones, as well. But not all wellness programs are hitting the mark. Gibbons surprised us with some of her suggestions… and there's clearly a lot of conversation still to be had before wellness programs can be considered a nationwide success.


Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. 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 and Twitter.

Living Well

Real Money: How to make the most of employee wellness programs

Employee wellness benefits and reward programs are on the rise. According to a recent study from the Society of Human Resource Management, 75% of companies offer wellness resources and/or employee wellness programs.

But here's the deal — even though "wellness benefits" might sound like a great perk, a lot of employees don't know what the benefits include or how to use them. Part of that is because these benefits are relatively new. In fact, the same study found that 44% of companies increased their employee wellness offerings in the last twelve months.

Here's some tips to help you make the most of your employee wellness rewards program.

Games, challenges and fitness trackers

Have you ever received an email from human resources with details about fitness games or walking challenges? If so, your company might have a wellness rewards program. Wellness rewards programs vary from company to company, but usually include things like health assessments, fitness challenges, biometrics tracking and wellness education. The details might change depending on your company, but the rewards and incentives are usually similar.

Here's how it works — employees are able to earn rewards for completing health assessments or challenges. The aim of these challenges is to increase employee health, and as a result, lower health care costs for the employer. It's a win-win. In order to incentivize employees to participate, employers usually offer rewards.

Sometimes the rewards are things like discounts for monthly health care expenses, but occasionally, the rewards are points or "dollars" that can be redeemed for health-related items.

Products that can make your workday better

Once you've earned rewards or dollars through your employee wellness programs, and you have a qualified plan, put those dollars to work. The best part about these rewards is that you can use them to buy health-related products that you would have needed anyways. Here are three products you can buy with your wellness rewards. The best part? These products will help improve your health and your workday.

Be prepared with the pain relief bundle

Whether it's a killer headache or bad cramps, it's never fun to experience pain, especially at work. But the worst part about having mild pain is that it's more of a nuisance than an actual health concern. That's why the pain relief bundle is the perfect kit to store in your desk at the office. Next time you feel a headache coming on or experience foot pain from uncomfortable shoes, you'll have exactly what you need to feel better quickly.

Get comfortable with shoe insoles or inserts

For some people, work involves a lot of standing or walking. Even though it might be good for your health to walk around throughout the day, it's hard on your feet. That's why it might be a good idea to invest in foot insoles or inserts. The best part about inserts is that they help even the most uncomfortable shoes become more comfortable.

Get organized with a pill box

Whether you're trying to remember to take prescription medicine or have the goal of creating a vitamin routine, an organizational pill box is a great way to ensure that you stay on track. Get organized for the week and leave the pill box in your desk at work. By creating a routine that incorporates your work day, you're more likely to actually remember and follow through.


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