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Basics

Fridays (with Benefits) - Summer is actually a perfect time for benefits planning

It's hard to believe, but we're about a week away from September. Back-to-school is in full swing, and Labor Day barbecue menus are already being planned. And that means open enrollment discussions are going to happen sooner rather than later.

But, as we learned in this guest post in HR Technologist, it's possible these conversations should have already started. It seems that late summer -- July, August and September -- is the best time of year to start prepping employees for benefits selection. Let's see what's up.

HR Shopping: Why Summer is Benefits Season - Rachel Lyubovitzky, EverythingBenefits (posted on HR Technologist)

According to EverythingBenefits' platform data, summer is the busiest time of year for benefits providers and exchanges, with 70-75% of businesses entering the process at this time. The question is, "why?"

Because there's much bigger decisions to make, and more benefits options to choose from than ever before. We've come a long way from "medical/dental/vision" coverage being enough to lure and retain quality workers. So HR pros have to be extra diligent in educating, explaining and enrolling employees in the right packages.

Here are some of the things the author feels are most-pressing in the eyes of HR professionals:

Modern benefit types

When we say "modern" we're not just expecting an app or online portal. Instead, millennial and Gen-Z employees are looking for more tangible things to improve their quality of life. Things like college loan reimbursement, elder care and even PET insurance are all desirable… and now they're on the benefits buffet at open enrollment.

Regulatory changes

HR professionals are busy enough without having to deal with the onslaught of new and changing health care policies. And before they can help workers navigate the often turbulent benefits waters, they need to make sure benefits packages are compliant, both for the present and the future.

By starting this preparation earlier in the year, HR pros are able to stay on top of these changes, while factoring in the needs and desires of their companies' workforces.

The article goes on to explain how artificial intelligence (AI) can play a role in facilitating the role of HR administrator, so they spend less time learning benefits offerings, and more time addressing the human needs and concerns. That IS a big part of the job, after all.

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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.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Revisiting 3 products that just miss FSA eligibility

In case you're new to Asked and Answered, we get a lot of questions about product and service eligibility. And understandably, there's a lot of confusion when it comes to certain products that seem like they should be eligible, but don't quite make the cut in the eyes of the IRS.

On the surface, the regulations behind your FSA seem pretty cut and dry. After all, these accounts are designed to cover "diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body."

But, this makes for a gray area, and some exclusions are more confusing than others. Let's revisit a few products that you would expect to be FSA-eligible, but unfortunately, haven't quite earned a spot on the list.

Toothbrushes/toothpaste/floss

I think we can all agree that good dental care is a healthy "must." Because not taking care of your teeth can lead to a wide range of potential health problems (not to mention social concerns). So, it would make sense for dental supplies to be eligible, right? Well, not quite … at least not yet.

Unfortunately, items like toothbrushes and floss fall under the umbrella of "general health," and don't make the grade just yet. We hope to see some changes in this area, but for now, these products are still taxed. That doesn't mean you should stop using them, though. There are better ways to make a point…

(It also doesn't mean there aren't any FSA-eligible oral care products available - there are plenty of ways to keep your mouth healthy using your tax-free funds.)

E-cigarettes and vaping devices

When we first mentioned these controversial products, they were becoming a hot-button issue. Today, vaping is quickly becoming a massive industry. It's also massively unregulated and largely unproven.

While there have been a metric ton of studies both in the U.S. and abroad proving the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a viable smoking alternative, the FDA won't designate them as "smoking cessation" products until countless other standards and regs are put in place. And that means the IRS isn't likely to budge, either.

So, while nicotine gums and lozenges might not be as popular as vape pens, they're still the only FSA-eligible (when prescribed) smoking cessation products around. But stay tuned, because the growing vape industry is bound to push for FDA approval each year until it gains some traction in Washington.

(But there are still some FSA-eligible smoking cessation tools worth investigating, though.)

Insect repellent

This might be the most-common product we hear about each day. We all know insects carry disease. And that their bites can transmit disease. So wouldn't a product that deters insects from biting be considered a preventive measure against disease?

However sunscreen is eligible and thankfully, your FSA does allow you the best of both worlds, thanks to sun protection that features insect-repelling ingredients. It might not be as potent as that industrial-size can of DEET you carry when you go hiking, but if you can get viable bug and sun protection in one bottle, it's a win-win, with tax-free funds.

BullFrog Mosquito Coast Bug Spray

BullFrog Mosquito Coast Bug Spray is engineered with a DEET-free insect repellent that deters bites for up to 8 hours and protects from the sun.

Oral Care Products

Oral care products like denture cleaner, filling materials and wax for braces are all FSA-eligible to keep you smiling.

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Is your financial wellness program really working?

Financial wellness programs are becoming more common these days, but to many employees, they're just sort of "there." Meaning, there might not be a clear reason for how companies are implementing these perks into their existing benefits offerings. And if employees aren't clear about how to best use financial training, how can we determine if they're successful?

Thankfully, research from Cerulli Associates has managed to track the ROI of financial wellness programs, and how they could better benefit employees in and out of the workplace.

Measuring the Success of Financial Wellness Programs - Lee Barney, PlanSponsor

As mentioned above, it's not always clear how financial wellness programs are being digested employees, so it helps when things start with clearly stated goals. This isn't surprising, of course. Especially when it comes to things like improving retirement planning. But when it comes to things like financial literacy and improving productivity, there's a little more gray area to explore.

Cerulli asked record keepers how they measure the effectiveness of their financial wellness programs, and the results werefairly straightforward:

  • 71% participation
  • 67% website activity
  • 62% contribution rates
  • 57% participant surveys
  • 38% retirement income replacement ratios
  • 38% financial wellness scores

These barometers do a good job addressing top-line items. But some experts cited in the article feel some deeper data will give a better idea into how financial wellness programs are changing behaviors for participants. Things like users getting 401(k) deferrals, 401(k) loans, hardship withdrawals, and even short-term payday loans are far more telling. Because they're measuring financial stress -- a key reason for having financial wellness programs in the first place.

And this same research is showing that financial stress is directly correlated with lower employee productivity.

According to Cerulli's survey of 1,500 401(k) plan participants it conducted in Q2 2019:

"...participants under the age of 40 are markedly more concerned about student loan debt. Those between the ages of 30 and 49 are most stressed about saving for retirement, while those 50 and older are most focused on health care expenses. Those with less than $100,000 in investable assets are more likely to cite lack of emergency savings and credit card debt as a financial concern compared to their more affluent peers. Women say their top stressor is retirement savings, and men say it is health care expenses."

In other words, there's a lot of financial training that needs to happen … for a lot of different reasons. The article goes on to highlight more-detailed research about financial wellness, but the takeaway is clear -- proper financial training is going to do a lot more than just give workers knowledge. It's going to give workers security and planning ability, which may just result in better productivity along the way.

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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 employers offering millennials the right benefits?

We live in a society that's all about "bigger," "faster" and "more." But, as we're learning in the workplace benefits arena, "more" doesn't always equal "better." At least that's what we're getting from the new employee research covered in BenefitsPRO, which told us that workers -- specifically millennials -- want more help for all-around wellness. It seems their needs simply aren't being met, even after companies continue to blindly pile on other offerings.

Millennials want more employer support for well-being - Katie Kuehner-Hebert, Benefits PRO

Let's get right to the numbers here. In a recent Welltok report, "Millennials: Raising the Bar for Wellbeing," this much-maligned, often-misunderstood generation isn't asking for the moon. They just want benefits that provide holistic support for physical, mental and financial well-being. Yet, of the 1,000 employees surveyed, 78% think their companies can do more.

In turn, just 23% felt they knew where (and how) to access the well-being resources being offered by their employers. In other words, the answers might actually be there, but employees are having a hard time finding them.

Despite all this automation, millennials have also shown an affinity for personalized experiences. And health and wellness is no exception. More than 60% of surveyed felt that their benefits were uniform across the board, even though employee needs varied widely. And it seems this "one size fits all" approach is preventing them from taking part in company programs, too.

So, how do employers change the story? Well, according to the article, adding incentives that encourage participation would help. These benefits aren't AS surprising, but it makes sense as to why millennials would want them. Here's what respondents seemed to want the most:

  • Extra vacation time (64%)
  • Wellness benefits (56%)
  • Flexible work schedules (53%)

And though it wasn't part of the incentives list, millennials are also (unsurprisingly) very interested in financial stability… and maybe the training to make it happen.

All in all, this was an interesting read that aligns with what we've said about what motivates millennials in the workplace. But it also reintroduces the biggest point -- companies likely need to adapt and evolve their benefits programs to help retain this diverse generation of workers.

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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.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Are Fitbit and Apple Watch FSA-eligible?

Admit it, you've looked at wearable devices and thought, "THIS is just what I need to get healthy and stay on track this coming year!" No judgment - we're guilty of the same thing. And we're just as guilty of wondering if we could find one of these fun toys in our stockings tax-free.

Wearable devices are getting more popular by the day - not only for those looking to get healthy, but also for employers looking to motivate workers into staying that way. (Because healthy employees mean fewer sick days and lower costs.)

Well, even though there have been some rumblings about changes, wearable fitness devices are still not considered FSA-eligible. If devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit were specifically designed for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of a disease, this might be a different response. But general health and overall well-being aren't quite enough to make them qualify.

So, are there any alternatives?

The good news is that there are plenty of other hi-tech, FSA-eligible products that can help you stay on top of your health, using the latest technologies, including smartphone compatibility.

For example, the Qardio Arm Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor makes keeping track of your vitals easy. Qardio measures systolic and diastolic blood pressure and heart rate. The Qardio is compatible with iPhone and Android, and it's light and compact, so you can easily carry it with you!

If tech-focused pain relief is your goal, then the Omron ElectroTherapy Pain Relief TENS Unit provides relief for multiple types of pain, whether you're at home, in the office or traveling. The unit relies on electrical nerve stimulation to offer relief and the small size of the unit makes it extremely portable.

And for deeper pains, maybe deep tissue light treatment is the answer. The Nuve N72 goes beyond the surface to improve blood circulation, alleviate swelling, and relax muscles. Users will enjoy near-immediate relief from pain, right at the source, within seconds of using the device.

But this is no portable heating lamp. Deep penetrating light (DPL) treatment uses an advanced form of energy to reach deep into your body, helping to heal while helping you eliminate nagging pains. The Nuve N72 has a wide range of uses, for most external parts of the body.

Of course, there are a lot of connected health products that are fully FSA-eligible. We've compiled our best, most-popular selections right here, in our Top 10 FSA-eligible products for the hi-tech health fan. And if you're looking for inspiration across the entire FSA-eligible spectrum, we encourage you to check out our comprehensive FSA Buying Guide.

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Are you planning to take some VTO?

Time off. We all want it. Some have it. And we'd venture a guess that not many people really make the most of it. Sure, the "ideal" way to spend your time off is subjective, to say the least. But based on this week's article, it seems more people are finding value in a new type of time off -- time off that might even be better for the soul.

Here's Why VTO Is the Next Big Thing in Employee Benefits - Lauren Pope, G2

No, that's not a typo -- VTO is the latest thing to hit employee benefits. To sum it up, VTO is when a company offers paid time off for its employees to volunteer with nonprofit organizations. Volunteer time off is usually paid and is tracked separately from sick days or vacation days and are offered with a use it or lose it policy.

Though some companies are a little more structured than others, typically VTO is done during set periods, with approved charities, and is completely voluntary. (Though we wouldn't want to be the one person who chose not to show up at a charity event.)

Is VTO a real thing? Or just a trend?

Oh, it's real. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), roughly 21% of American companies offer VTO. In turn, CECP says more than 60% of enterprise-level companies are making VTO a big part of their plans.

Why the sudden focus on philanthropy? Looking past the obvious "good press" and PR benefits, research shows that dedicated VTO leads to improvements in:

  • Employee engagement
  • Retention
  • Corporate visibility
  • Recruitment of young, socially minded talent

That last part is particularly important. Considering that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of employees quitting their jobs is higher than ever, getting the best young talent to fill (and stay in) those roles is key. These younger employees are more likely to work for a company that is socially active and aware, making VTO a key benefit offering on multiple levels.

The article goes on to explain more statistics about companies that offer VTO as part of a regular benefits package, and even gives some easy ways to manage a VTO program in your own company.

As you read this on a Friday afternoon, possibly getting ready for a few days off, consider how your company allows you to use your time off, and whether or not it can be put to better use. With a dedicated VTO initiative, it might soon be easier to truly make the most of your time away from work.

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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.

Eligibility

Flex-Ed: Clearing up the mysteries about vitamins and FSA/HSA eligibility

At first glance, vitamins and supplements seem like natural candidates for FSA- and HSA eligibility. They are designed to fill "gaps" in the average diet, and maybe offset minor nutritional deficiencies along the way -- yes, even those related to larger health problems.

But the IRS -- which governs FSA- and HSA-eligibility -- disagrees, while continuing to cite IRS 213(d), which states all FSA-eligible expenses must conform to the following standard:

"The diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body."

And this is where the arguments start. Arguments such as...

"My vitamins are necessary! Why am I being punished?"

Vitamins are perhaps the most-glaring example of a product that can either be necessary or "dual-purpose." Daily multivitamins are used to promote better health and well-being, but because there's no specific health need or condition that is helped by using multivitamins, they fall outside the accepted qualifications for FSA- and HSA- eligibility.

Is there a medical basis for needing a multivitamin? Sure - it's for your health, after all. But promoting general well-being and treating a specific condition are two very different things in the eyes of the IRS.

In the past, we've used toothbrushes and floss as a good comparison point for the vitamin debate, and it still holds up. Though we all know proper dental cleaning is necessary for all-around health and wellness, using a toothbrush and floss has not been identified as having a direct role in treating or solving the specific medical condition.

"My vitamins are eligible? How did that happen?"

Though multivitamins are likely the most-popular OTC supplement, only a handful of targeted vitamins have achieved FSA- and HSA-eligibility, provided the patients have documentation from their doctors claiming the need.

I think we can all agree prenatal vitamins meet the IRS requirements for eligibility, since they have shown to prevent birth defects and boost fetal development in ways that most modern diets can't quite seem to achieve.

Likewise, glucosamine/chondroitin supplements are extremely popular at FSAstore.com and HSAstore.com because of their proven benefits for treating arthritis.

Because the above exceptions have proven value in treating specific needs and conditions, they can be purchased with tax-free health dollars, and without any written approvals from physicians. However…

"Is there any chance they'll make an exception?"

We obviously can't answer that here. But as many Americans know, working with the IRS is not nearly the nightmare people used to claim. And if a doctor determines your body needs a specific vitamin supplement -- even if it falls outside of regular FSA or HSA parameters -- then a Letter of Medical Necessity might do the trick.

Chances are, the letter will need to be detailed in explaining why these specific products will benefit you, and how long the expected use will be (such as the duration of specific treatment). It's not a guarantee by any means, but a well-presented case made to your benefits administrator can go a long way toward getting the supplements you need, on a tax-free basis.

Glucosamine Chondroitin

Cushion bones and lubricate joints by taking glucosamine chondroitin daily.

Prenatal Vitamins

Keep mom and baby happy and healthy with daily prenatal vitamins for pregnant and nursing mothers.

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New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our weekly Flex-Ed column gives you a weekly 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. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Accounts

Fridays (with Benefits) - Are you getting full value from your benefits?

It's hard to imagine anyone making benefits "mistakes." When open enrollment comes, you just choose the best possible plan for you and move on with your day, right? If only things were that easy…

As we've discussed several times in this column, choosing the right benefits plan can be more difficult than you think, and can even be costly to employees, especially if they're not properly trained on their options. In this week's headline, Bob Armour from BenefitsPRO gets into some communication problems that could be hurting employee benefits, and suggests concrete ways to fix them.

5 benefits mistakes that cost employees - Bob Armour, BenefitsPRO

It seems like once benefits are chosen, employees are largely left to their own devices from that point forward. One of the things that stood out about this piece is how the author goes beyond benefits selection, and points out ways that companies can expand employee education to include spending advice, retirement planning and even wellness program engagement.

We obviously can't cover all of the article's points (that's why we included the link!). But here are some key takeaways from Armour's piece:

It should be a two-way conversation

When it comes to first choosing benefits, Armour points out how jargon can intimidate employees before they even start the selection process. Instead, he suggests opening the discussion with definitions to level the playing field between the benefits professional and the employee.

After that, he mentions how selection works best when key messaging points are communicated appropriately for different employee groups. Not just by professional tiers, but also by life stages -- recent hires vs. long-tenured employees, single vs. married, etc.

While all employees will have equal opportunities (obviously), different groups will have different needs, and using the same communication strategies might not resonate across the board.

Employees need to learn how to use benefits, not just choose them

Whether it's budgeting strategies for HDHP enrollees, or making regular health care recommendations (e.g. telemedicine vs. office visits, urgent care centers vs. visiting the ER) employees can benefit from ongoing communications with their administrators.

The truth is, many benefits options go largely unused once open enrollment is over. Things like wellness rewards programs, retirement planning training, debt management advice, or other perks need to remain front and center for employees, or they may quickly be forgotten. By making benefits perks seem important -- maybe reminding them that payroll deductions are already paying for them -- employees are more likely to take advantage of things that can improve their overall wellness.

These are just a few of the many takeaways Armour included in the article. And what we appreciated most about the piece was that even though it's from a publication aimed at benefits professionals, employees stand to gain just as much from reading it, maybe taking a few tips into their own open enrollment conversations this fall.

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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.

Eligibility

Flex-Ed: Revisiting FSAs and medical marijuana

Not to start this article with bad puns, but one of the most burning questions our readers have every year is, "Why isn't medical marijuana FSA-eligible?" While a good portion of the country still considers marijuana an illegal substance, there's been a steady shift in state laws, allowing qualified patients to use medical marijuana for more-targeted purposes, such as pain relief.

What is medical marijuana?

In short, medical marijuana is marijuana. The same marijuana people have argued, fought, debated and sung chill jams about since the beginning of time. The "medical" part is nothing more than a way to distribute the product to users deemed eligible by a medical professional, to use it to treat and lessen the severity of disease symptoms.

And no, this isn't limited to the kind you smoke. It can also deliver the same effects through being inhaled or ingested in food, tea, pills or even oils. Depending on which state a person lives in, qualifying for this type of treatment requires meeting certain guidelines and having specific qualifying conditions.

In other words, you can't just show up at a licensed dispensary and complain about migraines. After thorough diagnosis, the most common conditions for which medical marijuana treatments are approved are Tourette's Syndrome, epilepsy or other seizures, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and the effects of ongoing cancer treatments.

Another look at medical marijuana in the U.S.

November 5, 1996 is a banner day for those who support the lifting of marijuana laws in the United States. That's the day California became the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for medical use. Since then, similar laws have been passed in 29 states, plus the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. However, marijuana possession and use is still illegal under federal law, and it's listed as a Schedule 1 drug.

That said, there's some serious variation in medical cannabis laws from state to state, including how it's produced and distributed, how it can be consumed, and what medical conditions it can be used for.

So, why isn't medical marijuana eligible?

At first glance, it seems that medical marijuana would be eligible for reimbursement from an FSA because it's often used to treat legitimate medical conditions. However, any procedure, service, or item that's illegal under any law in effect where it is purchased or used is ineligible for reimbursement from an FSA.

Despite some loosening restrictions across the nation, medical marijuana continues to be listed as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law. This means it's considered to have a high potential for abuse, and no legitimate medical use.

Wait...what?

Regardless of changing medical opinions, and approval for medical use in a growing number of states, marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law for any purpose, including medical needs.

This is all detailed in IRS Publication 502, which lists eligible medical and dental expenses for tax deductions and reimbursements, specifically states that marijuana is not eligible under the "Controlled Substances" section, claiming:

"You can't include in medical expenses amounts you pay for controlled substances (such as marijuana, laetrile, etc.) that aren't legal under federal law, even if such substances are legalized by state law."

Even if federal law changes to allow the use of medical marijuana, it would have to be dispensed in line with the different rules and regulations of each state.

For instance, New York allows medical marijuana only in 30-day, non-smoking batches, whereas states like Connecticut allow users to hold up to 2.5 ounces at a time. Some states have designated dispensaries -- the ONLY places people can legally purchase the product in those locations.

Therefore, because marijuana is illegal under federal law everywhere in the United States, unless major changes happen in the coming years, medical marijuana will remain ineligible for FSA reimbursement, regardless of how many state laws change to approve its use.

But there's hope for those seeking changes to these laws. The American Medical Association and American College of Physicians don't take a position on the legalization of medical cannabis, but have called for the Schedule 1 label to be reviewed. The American Academy of Family Physicians also doesn't take a position, but does support rescheduling in order to further research.

What about this CBD that's popping up everywhere?

In addition to states that have passed medical marijuana laws, a number of states have passed restrictive laws that limit the permitted concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of cannabis.

The purpose of these laws is to allow for the use of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that's been shown to be effective in the treatment of seizure disorders, most notably in children. The use of cannabidiol to treat seizures gained increased attention with a number of media reports in 2012 and 2013, and by 2014 a number of states had enacted legislation to allow for its use.

But it all comes down to the source of the CBD. If it's derived from hemp, which has no psychoactive effects, the law doesn't seem to mind it. Hemp products are legal and available in all types of different industries across America. Marijuana, on the other hand, is a much different story. And this is why the source of a CBD product is crucial to its legal status in each state.

Long story short -- it's going to be a while before we even get to discussing the FSA eligibility of CBD. And for that matter, any product related to marijuana. But each day brings another update, so if you support the use of medical marijuana to alleviate medical conditions, take note of local activity and find the right way to support the cause.

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New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our weekly Flex-Ed column gives you a weekly 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.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Toes in the water, arches in the sand...

No, that's not exactly how the Zac Brown song goes. (This is a family publication, after all.) But for many of us, summer is just like that song -- all about bare feet, flip flops, and carefree times to wear a little and relax a lot.

Well, you may not feel it now, but summer can take its toll on your feet. If you're like us, you've walked barefoot on enough concrete and sand by mid-July that you probably don't even feel it, but your feet can end up taking a lot of abuse.

So, it might not be a "sexy" topic, but if you spend a lot of time shoeless during the summer months, you might want to read on.

Pick the right shoes

It might seem obvious, but foot care begins with footwear. As much as we all love slides and beach shoes, they're not really designed to give you the support you need for foot health.

But don't worry - we're not recommending you throw them out. Just make sure you spend some time in a good pair of sneakers, with plenty of midsole support for your arches, sturdy lacing, and outsoles with enough traction to handle different types of terrain, whether it's on sand, stone or sidewalk.

Skin care...for your feet?

You spend the entire summer protecting your skin… well, your feet need the same attention! For starters, always use a good sunscreen on your feet. But beyond that, walking on hot, rough surfaces with bare skin can leave feet achy with blisters and calluses. These can be formed from buildups of unwanted hard skin from repeated friction. Fortunately, your FSA can cover a wide range of products to help.

Corn and callus remover

From corn cushions, to callus removers, to bunion pads, your feet might benefit with some simple OTC treatment. Not to mention you can also purchase a corn and callus remover to help get rid of dead skin and keep your feet feeling baby smooth...or at least smoother than they were.

FSA-eligible topical solutions

And, while no one likes to talk about it, if you happened to get a foot fungus of some sort (public pools, we're looking at you) don't worry. These are common ailments, and FSA-eligible topical solutions can treat conditions like athlete's foot, plantar warts and other annoyances the summer may have left you with.


Foot pain

Being on your feet for long periods of time (like during hikes, volleyball tournaments, music festivals, etc.) can lead to unexpected foot pain. Instead of waiting for it to go away, be proactive about the pain and meet it head on.

Of course, your first stop needs to be to a doctor, to make sure your foot pain isn't caused by something more serious. Podiatrists can handle any number of foot and ankle problems, but not all treatments are covered by insurance plans. If not, your FSA can help offset the costs of:

  • Podiatrist appointments and checkups
  • X-rays, MRIs and lab work (including copays, coinsurance and lab fees)
  • Prescription meds
  • Orthotics and insoles

Shoe insoles and cushions

Speaking of which, once you see the doctor, they might recommend something as simple as shoe insoles and cushions to ease stress on your feet by providing ample support and cushioning for whatever might be aching.

Custom orthotics

If your foot pain is a little more severe or you've been suffering from regular discomfort, the doc will probably move you toward custom orthotics to correct the foot pain, and maybe also to alleviate possible neuromuscular and skeletal ailments. While these orthotics may cost a little more, they typically last longer and prove to be more beneficial for your foot health than a generic, "one size fits all" shoe insert you buy over the counter.

(But do your due diligence -- make sure the supports you buy are sized correctly for your feet and shoes! Otherwise, they're not doing what they're supposed to.)

As always, we're not doctors, so if you're having some foot discomfort, make an appointment and get it checked out. Because the sooner you do that, the sooner you'll be able to enjoy the rest of the season, pain-free. Whether you put your toes in the water (or anything else in the sand) is entirely up to you.

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Is holistic wellness the next big thing in benefits?

Wellness has practically become a buzzword in benefits circles. What used to mean "checkups" and "exercise" is now an all-encompassing term that covers virtually every part of a person's health. This means employers need to think bigger with their wellness offerings -- gym memberships and fresh fruit only go so far. The latest wrinkle in the wellness discussion? Holistic viewpoints. Let's dive in...

Investing in holistic wellness leads to more productive employees - Katie Kuehner-Hebert, BenefitsPRO

According to an Optum/National Business Group on Health survey of 2,200 workers from large companies, wellness needs to extend beyond the norm, to cover things as broad as financial health and mental well-being. Because these all add to a better employee experience.

In fact, the survey shows that a renewed, forward-thinking focus on wellness is directly related to employee productivity and loyalty, as well as their overall health. Not only did the surveyed employees indicate boosts in job performance and positive opinions about their employers.

However, it was clear from the results that financial well-being needs to be higher on the priority list. Nearly ⅓ of employees claimed they wanted more options available to them. This, along with improvements in prescription drug costs, are the biggest problem areas that employers could realistically solve, within reason.

But there was some better news -- 71% of employers are now offering mental health support. While these may not be as comprehensive as people want -- 25% claimed they wanted expansion in this area -- it's still a positive sign that employers are stepping up to prevent employee burnout and other long-term effects of stress.

The article makes some interesting finds about the things employees want the most from their benefits plans, and is well-worth the five minute read.

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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 we really ready for a digital health care system?

Not a week goes by where we don't hear about another digital, robotic, AI-enhanced development in health care. Whether it's telehealth chats with a doctor, or new ways to analyze test results, we're all well-aware of the changes happening in our medical routines.

But being aware of the changes doesn't necessarily mean we're happy about them. As we learn in this week's headline, while advancements like telehealth may be inevitable, there are some things that take a little longer to accept… especially when it comes to our health.

Survey: Only 20% of Consumers Would Trust AI-Generated Advice for Healthcare - Fred Pennic, HIT Consultant

As a journalism school survivor, I've come to appreciate honesty in writing. So when a piece opens with a definitive statement like, "Artificial intelligence (AI) has no role in consumer healthcare…" well, we take notice.

Of course, that wasn't just blurted onto the page without context -- according to a recent survey of 2,000 adults, conducted by Invoca and The Harris Poll among over 2,000 U.S. adults, just 20% would trust AI-generated advice for health care information.

That's right, a society that trusts smartphones to pay bills, manage investments and provide accurate heart rate information can't quite come to grips with artificial intelligence handling basic medical analysis. In fact, the same people who usually text their friends rather than call them still want medical information delivered via phone conversations.

Unsurprisingly, younger survey participants were more likely to trust AI-generated information, with 80% responding positively. However, when it came to receiving medical advice, only 22% of the same age group felt comfortable using this technology.

Despite some of the snarky things we wrote earlier, it makes perfect sense that people want to have a human connection when it comes to medical updates. Even if the recommended treatment or diagnosis is minor, these are still decisions that could alter a big part of someone's life, and there needs to be a deeper level of understanding and compassion -- a level that AI isn't quite at just yet.

But one thing is for certain, this change is happening, and health care providers need to act upon surveys like this one to ensure that AI-driven patient interaction is capable of giving clear, concise, but caring information.

While robots may never have human levels of compassion, it's clear we'll need them to be -- or at least capable of sensing when a live person should take over the conversation.

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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.

Eligibility

Asked and Answered: How can I keep my stomach in check during July 4 barbecues?

Maybe you're getting off work a little early today. Maybe some all-day parties are on the horizon. Maybe you're just planning on watching some fireworks... with a few beers and pounds of barbecue. While all of this sounds fun (because it is) excessive eating can also mean a stomach problem waiting to happen.

Even if you're not competing in the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest -- because no one should do that, ever -- July 4 barbecues can catch up with you if you're not careful. Let's start with the preventatives -- things you can buy with your FSA before you celebrate Independence Day harder than Will Smith and Bill Pullman.

Probiotics are your friend...

...or friends, we should say. Probiotics are the millions of naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts in your body that help with the digestion process. Sounds kind of gross, but these little guys are really helpful when it comes to breaking down food and boosting your immunity.

While we're already filled with lots of good probiotics, sometimes it's nice (and necessary) to get a little help. Probiotics can be found in tons of common foods like yogurt, chocolate and soft cheeses. If you have a more diverse palate, they're also found in sauerkraut, kombucha and even sour pickles.

But, If these foods don't excite you, or if you're having digestive troubles, a medical professional might prescribe (FSA-eligible with prescription) probiotics, or other digestive health remedies.

What if it's "too late?" …

If you've already eaten 20 hot wings (after promising you'd stop at three), or if you had a fun night out after getting back from an entire day out -- don't panic. There are solutions, and they come in the form of digestive aids.

Digestive aids are over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that can treat anything from diarrhea to heartburn to gas pains. They come in a wide range of forms like antacids, laxatives, antidiarrheals or anti-gas medicines, all of which can help what's bothering you (and all of which can be FSA-eligible if prescribed by your doctor).

And if this becomes more of a recurring problem, then maybe there's more to it. Instead of turning to temporary solutions, a doctor might recommend a change in your sleeping habits. Thankfully, there are awesome elevated acid reflux pillows that can alleviate a lot of the discomfort. Just by raising your sleeping position, acid stays where it belongs, and you start enjoying the benefits of a restful night sleep... even if you still overdid it at the fireworks display.

If it's a little more serious ...

If you don't have a simple stomach ache and are dealing with more long-lasting gut pain, your FSA can still help. After speaking with a doctor (which you should do whenever experiencing stomach pains of any kind) and targeting the the source of your discomfort, you might be given some OTC meds to help.

Gastrointestinal medications are FSA-eligible when prescribed, and can treat ailments associated with conditions like Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), liver disease, ulcers, stomach cancer and many others.

For those dealing with these sorts of problems, this time of year can be hard as is, so make sure you protect yourselves from the potential discomforts that can be caused by eating heavier, greasier foods and by stress.

Stomach issues are going to happen, especially if you plan on multiple July 4 barbecues this year. But they shouldn't hinder your life -- and with a little proactive, preventive treatment, they don't have to.

Probiotics

Acid Reflux Pillows

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From FSA basics to the most specific account details, in our weekly Asked and Answered column, our team gets to the bottom of your most-pressing flex spending questions. It appears every Wednesday, 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, YouTube and Twitter.