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Living Well

Show your heart a little extra love for American Heart Month

February is all about heart. From the romantic overtures of Valentine's Day to the recognition of American Heart Month, there's a lot to think about over the course of 28 days. But, while you may not be able to protect your heart from Cupid's arrow, there is plenty you can do to keep it healthy in more important (though maybe less romantic) ways.

When it comes to well-being, it's important to know the facts. The American Heart Association (AHA) has indicated cardiovascular symptoms (including heart attacks and strokes) are the leading global cause of death.

These symptoms are also largely preventable through some easy lifestyle choices and changes. Here are some common, simple, (and often FSA-eligible) things you can do to help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

1) Monitor blood pressure

We've mentioned it a lot lately, but there's no denying that keeping your blood pressure under control is one way to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure reportedly affects 1 in 3 adults in the United States.

The AHA says a normal blood pressure reading is 120/80. If you're not on or around these marks, discuss with your physician how to lower your blood pressure. It might be as simple as adhering to a healthier diet, or participating in stress relief techniques like yoga or tai chi. It might also require a little help from medications, like diuretics or beta blockers.

Look, the reality is that when hypertension goes unnoticed and untreated, it can be damaging to blood vessels and organs. Use an FSA-eligible blood pressure monitor regularly to help identify if you have reason for concern. Some even work with your smartphone!

2) Get moving!

Health experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day to lower your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Studies show that exercise releases endorphins. These "feel good" chemicals in your body help alleviate stress, a recognized culprit when it comes to heart health.

One easy tip for getting these juices flowing? Go for a hike or even a walk around the block. It's the little things that make a big difference.

Some hikers and workout warriors enjoy using a pulse oximeter, which often work with your smartphone and provide readings about your pulse rate and blood oxygen levels.

3) Start shedding!

And we don't mean extra fur or layers of clothes. According to the the AHA, losing just 10 pounds can help lower your risk of heart disease by reducing stress on your heart.

To find out your healthy weight you can calculate it using a formula incorporating your height and weight called the body mass index or BMI.

(Don't worry, the folks at the National Institutes of Health already put together this BMI calculator to do the work for you.)

4) Contain that cholesterol

The AHA suggests following a regular exercise routine and incorporating certain foods in your diet to help lower cholesterol like whole- and multi-grain products, such as bran and oats. They also suggest foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like avocado, flax seeds, olive oil, and fatty fishes like salmon and tuna.

Antioxidant fruits and vegetables, as well as foods high in plant sterols like walnuts and almonds are also recommended.

If your doctor thinks your cholesterol needs a little extra help, certain cholesterol monitoring devices are eligible, as well as some medications used to help lower bad cholesterol levels.

5) Monitor blood sugar

Studies show a person with type 1 or 2 diabetes is at risk for developing heart disease and is important to keep your sugars under control. FSA-eligible glucose testing products are a good way to monitor your blood sugar and keep it within safe ranges.

Experts say if your fasting blood sugar level is below 100, you are in the healthy range. If not, your results could indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes and should be checked by a physician. Medications may be indicated, and some can be found on our up-to-date FSA eligibility list.

6) Stop smoking

It's pretty common knowledge that smoking is a known cause of cardiovascular disease. We don't need to quote studies -- people are well-aware of the struggles. But there is help. Nicotine therapies, like the Nicoderm CQ patch try to help a person stop the urge to smoke and are FSA-eligible.

Some mental health experts say cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person to stop smoking. Speak to your doctor about different options that are available.

At the end of the day, your heart health future is controllable and easy to maintain, with some diligence and medical guidance. Using the tips above, as well as recommendations from your doctor, let American Heart Month be your springboard toward better heart health for years to come.

We think you'll agree that taking care of your heart will be a better gift for your loved ones than chocolates or flowers ever could be.

Pulse Oximeter

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Glucose Testing Products

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Living Well

How to keep your New Year's resolutions on track

Many people start the new year with great intentions. But here we are a month later, the weather is rough, and sometimes, things slip by. Don't stress - you're allowed to be human!

If you haven't made as much progress as you'd like on your New Year's goals just yet, it's time to reset and give them another try. Keep a few of these tips in mind to help you succeed at your resolutions.

Assess your goals

Setting smaller, more attainable milestones can help you achieve your goals. So try to aim for smaller steps to make them more achievable. Your calendar can help you recommit to your plan!

Mondays are not only the start of your work week, but also a fresh start to achieving your goals. Maybe it can motivate you to hit the gym, or make healthier food choices when shopping to keep your body in tune.

Breathe easier

Don't let cold and flu season sideline you from working out or getting outdoors. Even if you aren't currently dealing with these issues, you can keep them away by rinsing your sinuses with nasal wash kits and using moisturizing saline sprays during the winter when the air tends to be drier.

And at night, non-medical relief items like steam inhalers not only help to help drive off congestion and sinus discomfort, but are also FSA-eligible.

Heal faster

Are sore muscles delaying your workout regimen goal. Heating wraps applied to tight muscles can help increase blood flow, bringing nutrient-rich blood to aching muscles. This can help heal and alleviate soreness and discomfort.

Physical therapists also recommend using FSA-eligible ice packs to achy joints after your workout to help reduce swelling and soreness after your workout.

Sleep healthy

We've discussed the importance of quality sleep before. But that's because we're firm believers in the restorative power of sleep, and how something as simple as proper rest can help you on your way to hitting those resolution goals.

If you're not feeling quite rested enough, there's no harm in checking with your doctor to make sure everything is alright, and that there's nothing interfering with your sleep. Take this opportunity to discuss the possibility of any problems, including sleep apnea, which is common, but should be addressed, nonetheless.

After your checkup (and an easy sleep test) a doctor can determine if you have sleep apnea, and make a decision about corrective surgery or using a CPAP machine, which can help maintain steady breathing while you sleep. These machines can be life-savers, but they need to be maintained and cleaned to work properly.

Thankfully, a wide range of CPAP machine cleaners are FSA-eligible, so you can keep the machine, your breathing, and your rest in good working order.

With proper rest, you might just find it easier to tackle all the other health and fitness resolutions on your list, getting you right back on track to own 2018.

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Living Well

6 tips to fine tune your workout routine

As the New Year begins, one common resolution is to get back into shape for the coming year. But as you know, most people give up their resolutions because they're difficult, and because of pain that comes from improper workout form. Before you hit the gym consider the following tips to have safe workouts in 2018.

1. Build your butt to boost squats

This might sound silly, but poor control of your gluteus maximus (your buttock muscles) can leave you susceptible to injury during workouts like squats.

If the gluteus is weak, your hip extension will be as well, and your spine might have to overcompensate, leading to strains. If you do squats, monitor yourself during the lowering motion and be sure you don't tip forward. You may want to spend a few weeks of specific gluteus strengthening before going into a squat workout.

One exercise that can help strengthen your gluteus is the prone hip extension. To do these, simply lie down and squeeze your buttocks, then lift one leg to perform a hip extension. Do three sets of 10, three times a week. And if possible, it never hurts to have a trainer watch your form.

On a side note, getting back and hip pain is normal during any new workout. If you're noticing some discomfort in your back and sides during these targeted sessions, ask a medical professional if a drug-free pain relief device like the FSA-eligible TENS therapy is right for you.

2. Never ignore your knees

When performing lunges, step-ups, squats or other cardio, a common mistake is allowing the knees to "roll in," allowing the knees to move forward past your toes. This puts pressure at the joint line, meniscus, and knee caps, among other body parts.

When lunging, keep knees in line with your ankles and inner toes. Imagine a glass wall coming up from your toes to help you keep your knee from moving too far forward, or consider using a knee brace or support to help maintain good form.

3. Harness your hips

Tight hip muscles can lead to injuries as well. During activities that require a lot of bending, like yoga poses and squats, a tight hip flexor will fire to help you balance especially if the glutes are weak. This overactivation can lead to stiff, painful muscles.

Tight hips can also pull at your spine creating excessive arching which can contribute to back and hip issues. Be sure to stretch your hip flexors and strengthen glutes.

4. Brace that back

During certain core workouts be careful to mind how far you arch the back. Many people think they're addressing their core, but poor form can leave them at risk of injuring it instead. A common mistake seen in the gym is arching or dropping of the back during the bird dog exercise (a position in which you're on all fours, alternately lifting an arm and the opposite leg).

Be sure to hold your spine straight, changing how high you kick your leg to avoid hyper-extending the back or rotating the hips. One helpful idea might be to brace your belly button towards your spine when performing the motion.

Core workouts can strain on your back, so consider picking up a flexible but supportive back brace to alleviate pain and strains.

5. Push those pecs

The chest muscles in the front have been shown to inhibit your upper back muscles. This prevents them from firing properly during your upper body workouts. It can contribute to unwanted motions such as shrugging shoulders while lifting which can lead to shoulder and neck issues.

A gentle stretch of the pecs for even one minute a day can help address these muscles and help prevent a slouching posture. But if your upper body workouts are a work in progress, consider an preventive support belt to keep your body position aligned.

6. Pace yourself!

It's important to build up gradually. Experts say that you should increase your activity (distance, intensity, weights) by no more than 10% per week.

Example: If you want to run 10 miles per week, increase it by one mile the next week. If you're currently lifting 20 pounds, try to increase by two pounds the following week, then modify accordingly. And as always -- be sure to warm up before any workout!

Finally, pay attention to your body. If you're experiencing pain, see a qualified medical professional, and decide if FSA-eligible physical therapy relief products will help your routine.

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Living Well

6 simple ways to crush your 2018 health goals right away

Many folks are making their New Year's Resolutions - so why not make health one of your priorities in the new year. Here are some easily achieved -- and sustainable -- health improvements you can immediately make for 2018!

Sleep

Studies show a good night's sleep not only energizes you throughout the day but it also helps with learning and memory. Experts say when you are well-rested you can focus your attention better and learn more efficiently. Sleep also plays a role in improving memory function, which is essential for learning and retaining new information.

Harvard Medical research also shows that lack of sleep affects your mood, motivation and perception of events. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep a night for adults. And this doesn't even account for the preparation beforehand. Their experts have seen successful sleep improvements by turning off all screens within an hour of bedtime, such as phones, tablets, televisions and computers. They also recommend limiting caffeine intake throughout the day, typically putting that cup of coffee down at least six hours before bedtime to avoid sleep disruption.

Kick up the cardio

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity. One way to achieve this would be 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

If you are looking to lower blood pressure and cholesterol the AHA suggests doing 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise, 3-4 times a week. High-intensity interval training (HIITS) consists of cycles of high intensity followed by lower-intensity activity is also a good way to get a cardio workout in a short period of time.

Of course, if you plan to increase your cardio, be sure to use an FSA-eligible blood pressure monitor to stay within safe activity levels.

Drink water!

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight, and is essential to help your cells, tissues and organs function properly. But, when your body is even mildly dehydrated you may feel sluggish. Be sure to drink water throughout the day and eat foods that are good sources of water like fruits and vegetables.

To ensure we get ample hydration, we keep a water bottle at our desks to help balance our daily intake. As a point of reference, Mayo Clinic experts suggest women drink 2.7 liters of fluids a day while men try to consume 3.7 liters.

Prevention is key

To keep steady track of your ongoing health, be sure to book your annual physical and eye examinations with your doctor the same time each year. Some suggest scheduling them around your birthday since it's a good way to remember to make those appointments.

Fill your social calendar

Whether it is a monthly dinner or cup of coffee. And talk face-to-face with friends vs Facebook comments. Health experts say there are significant benefits to social interaction and physical touch with people. According to a National Institutes of Health study, positive social well-being has been associated with lower levels of inflammatory factors that lead to Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular diseases.

These (and related) studies also show people who are lonely often have elevated systolic blood pressure. Heck, these researchers also show that hugs help lower the stress chemical cortisol, and cause a release of a chemical that helps makes people feel more secure toward one another.

Cook your meals at home!

Find a set of healthy recipes and set aside a day to prepare meals for the week. This will help save you money from constantly ordering out when you pull some late nights at work, and help you control what ingredients are in your food.

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Eligibility

6 FSA-eligible stocking stuffers for your health

Holiday shopping probably has you worn out. We get it -- fighting crowds and hunting online to find gifts for others can get a little intense. But what about getting something for yourself? Something you want … something you need … something no one else will think to buy?

This year, give yourself the gift of health with these six last-minute FSA-eligible ideas:

1) Holiday warmth with heat wraps

Take care of your inner weekend warrior by soothing achy muscles with heat wraps for the neck, lower back, arms and legs. Studies show tendons and ligaments have a limited blood supply, so they don't heal as quickly. Heat can help increase blood flow which in turn brings nutrient-rich blood to ligaments, tendons and tight muscles, helping them heal.

2) Merry Kiss-mas!

Soothe chapped lips and protect them from the drying effects of wind and cold during these winter months with FSA-eligible lip balm with SPF. For added protection from the sun our eligible lip protectants come with an SPF of 15 or more, which is especially helpful if you like to spend a lot of time in the great outdoors skiing!

3) Wrap them up with kinesio-tape

Bows and ribbons aren't the only things wrapped this holiday season! Products like KT Tape have been shown to be effective in treatment of strained muscles and tendons. Many physical therapists incorporate the use of kinesio tape in the treatment of tendonitis, muscle strains, and sciatica. This stretchy tape comes in several bright colors, and has countless uses.

4) Start the year off on a good foot

Tight feet and ankle musculature can create stress at your knees and hips when you walk. Using a foot roller can help massage tightened soft tissue in your feet helping them become more flexible.

Foot rollers can also provide some relief to achy tired feet, heel pain and conditions like plantar fasciitis. Rollers are easily portable and can be left under a desk or near a bed.

5) No tears this season – except for fake ones!

Dry eye is a condition that affects many people. Eye experts recommend lubricating drops to help relieve dry, gritty, itchy eyes that occur from this condition. Dry eyes can develop for many reasons, including: medications, certain medical conditions, environmental factors and age.

If your family has had an eye specialist recommend lubricating drops, why not stuff a few in the stocking?

6) Give bugs the "bah humbug" this holiday with bug spray!

If your friends and family like to enjoy long hikes in the woods, bug spray with SPF may be a nice item to stuff their stockings! Certain bug sprays can help repel mosquitos and disease- carrying ticks.

The CDC recommends bathing or showering within two hours after coming indoors to wash off and spot ticks that may be crawling on you. Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror after being in potentially tick infested areas, like trails, tall grass, or any shady, damp area. They also recommend you examine backpacks, clothes and pets since ticks can jump off and attach to a person later.

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Living Well

8 healthy hacks for Hanukkah

This week, people around the world will be celebrating Hanukkah with family, food and fun. But during this 8-night festival of lights, it's important that fitness doesn't take a holiday, either! Let's go through a few tips to making your happy Hanukkah a little healthier, as well!

TIP #1: Bake those latkes instead of frying them

What would the holiday be without latkes - crispy, golden-brown potato pancakes fried in oil? Now, while the frying oil is used to honor the traditional Hanukkah story about the miracle of the oil in the temple, we're going to mix things up. Instead of frying those pancakes, why not try baking them?

To get the same texture, place them on a baking sheet and brush with light oil -- we still need to honor the miracle, after all! After 15-20 minutes (turning once for all around crispiness), you'll have amazing latkes, with way less fat.

If you really want to push the envelope, try making vegetable latkes to get some added nutrients. Here's a recipe we love from Kosher.com.

TIP #2: Sneak in a workout with HIIT!

Family celebrations can cut into your workout routine. To get in your daily sweat, grab a short window of time (15-20 minutes) and perform a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout. Studies show that HIIT workouts can burn just as many, if not more, calories as continuous longer runs.

These workouts consist of short interval cycles of intense activity bursts, followed by less-intense aerobic activity. Examples include alternating sprints with walks/lower-paced runs.

TIP #3: De-stress to digest

Sometimes holidays bring on stress. When the body is under stress – the "fight or flight" system kicks into gear slowing down digestion. To avoid that "pit in your stomach" feeling after eating too much, take a few breaths to help de-stress post-meal.

One technique recommended by experts is a breathing exercise where you inhale for a four-count, hold for seven counts, then breathe out for eight counts. Do this 3-4 times, then see if you're a little more relaxed throughout your body. If that doesn't do the trick, there's no shame in admitting you overate, and getting a little help from an antacid.

TIP #4: Get stretching!

To avoid those achy tired feet from standing and visiting relatives this holiday get stretching! Before stepping out to your celebration, grab a step and stretch your calf! Stand tall holding onto the handrail with the balls of your feet on the edge of a step and drop the heels down to feel a stretch along your calf. Hold for 30 seconds, then relax.

(Of course, if your feet remain tired and achy, perhaps FSA-eligible insoles can help, too!)

TIP #5: Stay hydrated

Parties can leave you a bit fatigued. Studies show one way to keep your energy going is to stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle nearby as a reminder to drink water throughout the day.

Experts recommend drinking at least eight (there's that number again!) glasses of water daily. You may need more depending on factors like exercise.

TIP #6: Remember portion sizes

Eight nights of candle-lighting can lead to eight nights of splurging . One way to help trim some calories is to cut down on portion sizes. Making sufganiyots (Israeli donuts)? Lower your fat and calorie intake by opting for mini versions of these doughy treats, instead. This is solid advice for all of your holiday eating. You likely won't notice the difference (and if your Hanukkah celebrations are anything like ours, you won't ever feel hungry, either).

TIP #7: Sneak in some strength work

Avoid straining muscles while lifting Hanukkah decorations and dishes. One way is to be mindful of your posture! Think of keeping your rib cage stacked over your pelvis and your ears in line with your shoulders and hips.

Then, squeeze your shoulder blades down and together (don't shrug) 10 times. There, just like that, you did some strength work without anyone even knowing. For maximum benefit, do this 3-4 times a day to help counter slumping at the holiday table.

If the cause of your muscle pain runs a little deeper than posture, consider getting some assistance from some pain relief products, too!

TIP #8: Dance!

Download a few Hanukkah songs and get dancing! It's not only a great way to enjoy the festivities but also a fun way to bond with family and friends while burning a few calories in the process!

References:

High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. (2011). Journal of Obesity. doi:10.1155/2011/868305

Weil, A., Dr. (2016, May). Three Breathing Exercises And Techniques. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-s...

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