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16 Surprising FSA and HSA Eligible Expenses Your Employees Should Know About

Employers offer flexible savings accounts and health savings accounts to their employees so they can build up funds with pre-tax dollars to pay for health care and related expenses.

For the most part, people use their funds in FSAs and HSAs to reimburse themselves for out-of-pocket costs like copays, health insurance deductibles and the cost of prescription medications.

Unfortunately, many people don’t take full advantage of their FSAs and HSAs — and they could be getting reimbursed for a number of items they already are purchasing.

But while funds in an HSA roll over each year, the funds in an FSA must usually be spent by the end of the year, unless the employer allows its staff to carry over a certain amount to the following year.

Employers can offer one of two options to give their employees more time to spend their funds:

Grace period — You can provide an extra 2.5 months each year to spend the money in their flex accounts, which in most cases means until March 15 of the following year. In essence, they get 14.5 months to spend the funds. Whatever they don’t spend goes back to you, the employer.

Carry over — This allows your employees to keep some of the unspent money in an FSA from one year to the next.

In 2023, the maximum an employee can carry over is $610. This means that if they have money left in their FSA at the end of the plan year in 2023, they can keep up to $610 of it. If they have more than that at the end of the year, the rest goes back to you.

As a result, while employees with HSAs are not pressured to spend funds in their accounts every year, those with FSAs are. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 48% of workers forfeited an average of $408 of their FSA funds in 2020.

Both FSAs and HSAs have the same rules for what they will cover.

However, employees often are unaware of the myriad of goods and services they can spend their funds on. To help your staff, you can educate them about these goods and services, and often the companies that host these accounts will provide a list of them. Typically, an expense is eligible if it mitigates, treats or prevents a specific disease or ailment from affecting the body.

These expenses are eligible too

You may also want to let them know about these 16 surprising eligible expenses:

  • Over-the-counter medicines — Anything from cough syrup and pain relievers to allergy medications and eyedrops.
  • Menstrual hygiene products
  • A fitness program if the person is suffering from a health issue like diabetes, hypertension or obesity.
  • Thermometers
  • Heating pads
  • Travel expenses to receive care
  • Massages if they are for relieving pain
  • Sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
  • Insect repellent
  • Tobacco cessation programs
  • Genetic health tests (like 23andme).
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Sleep deprivation treatment and medication
  • Breast pumps
  • Birth control devices (condoms, pills, etc.)
  • Baby monitors.

PBMs Feeling the Heat on All Fronts

While drugmakers have been assailed for years for increasing their prices and driving the cost of medications higher and higher, there is another player in the health care space that is receiving increased scrutiny: pharmacy benefit managers.

PBMs are intermediaries, acting as go-betweens for insurance companies, self-insured employers, drug manufacturers and pharmacies.

They can handle prescription claims administration for insurers and employers, facilitate mail-order drug delivery, market drugs to pharmacies, and manage formularies (lists of drugs for which health plans will reimburse patients.) 

Express Scripts, which provides network-pharmacy claims processing, drug utilization review, and formulary management, among other services, is the best-known PBM. CVS Caremark and UnitedHealth Group’s OptumRx are other major players. 

PBMs typically contract with both insurers (or self-insured employers) and pharmacies. They charge health plans fees for administering their prescription drug claims and create formularies that spell out the prices pharmacies receive for each drug on the list.

Commonly, the price the plan pays for a drug is more than the pharmacy receives for it. The PBM collects the difference between the two prices. 

It can do this because the health plan does not know what the PBM’s arrangement is with the pharmacy, and vice versa. Also, the plan doesn’t know the details of the PBM’s arrangements with its competitors. 

A PBM could charge one plan $200 for a month’s supply of an antidepressant, charge another plan $190 for the same drug, and sell it to a pharmacy for $170. None of the three parties knows what the other parties are paying or receiving.

Additionally, PBMs have been accused of pocketing the rebates that drug manufacturers offer, instead of passing them on to the end users: the patients who are prescribed the medications. Those rebates can be significant.

In the crosshairs

In theory, the PBMs should pass these rebates back to the individuals who are prescribed the medication so that they can reduce their out-of-pocket costs. However, if most of those costs are born by the insurer, those rebates would conceivably be transferred to the insurer that is paying for the drugs and the insurer could pass some of those savings on to enrollees.

But, because these arrangements are also confidential, the extent to which these savings are passed back to health plans is unknown.

As pressure on PBMs has grown, federal and state lawmakers, attorneys general in various states and state regulators have been taking action.

In 2022, 12 states enacted 19 measures that included a variety of restrictions and requirements for PBMs, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

A number of state attorneys general have filed lawsuits against some of the country’s largest PBMs. Ohio Attorney General David Yost has managed to wring more than $100 million in settlements with PBMs in the last three years, after filing lawsuits accusing them of violating state antitrust laws and overcharging state agencies like the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and the Ohio Department of Medicaid.

And in Washington D.C., a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would require PBMs to file an annual report with the Federal Trade Commission about fees charged to pharmacies and reimbursements sought from drug companies.

The bill also authorizes state attorneys general “to conduct investigations, to administer oaths or affirmations, or to compel the attendance of witnesses or the production of documentary or other evidence.”


HDHP Enrollees Less Satisifed with Their Health Plans

A new study has found that people enrolled in traditional PPOs and HMOs are more satisfied with their plans than those who are enrolled in high-deductible health plans. But satisfaction greatly increases when HDHP enrollees stick with their plan for more than three years, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)/Greenwald Research “Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey.”

HDHP enrollees enjoy lower up-front premium costs in exchange for higher potential out-of-pocket costs for copays, coinsurance and deductibles, and high health care users may experience significant outlays not covered by insurance. The sticker shock that comes with paying for those deductibles is likely partly responsible for those feelings.

But the report authors noted that there may be other reasons too:

“Lack of experience with their health coverage may account — at least in part — for this difference. Higher out-of-pocket costs may also contribute to the difference in satisfaction, but other disconnects exist,” they wrote.

HDHP enrollees also were less satisfied about other aspects of their coverage, with the study finding that:

  • 47% of HDHP participants were satisfied with the cost of prescription drugs, compared to 63% of traditional plan enrollees.
  • 47% of HDHP participants were happy with the prices they pay for other health care services, compared to 57% of traditional plan members.

That said, the poll did not find any differences in terms of the perceived quality of care that HDHP and traditional plan enrollees receive.

The study authors also surmised that it is often people who are new to health insurance who may be most attracted to HDHPs due to the lower premiums. Similarly, those on a restricted budget may also gravitate towards these plans due to the lower premiums up front.

Interestingly, the survey found that the longer people stay enrolled in an HDHP plan, the more satisfied they become with it:

  • If enrolled in an HDHP for less than one year, just 32% of participants were satisfied with their plan.
  • If enrolled for one to two years, 44% were satisfied.
  • If enrolled three or more years, 55% were satisfied.

Key to HDHP satisfaction

The key to successfully navigating an HDHP comes down to educating yourself in how these plans work, the trade-off between higher out-of-pocket costs and lower premiums, and the importance of taking some of those premium savings and socking them away in a health savings account.

If you have an individual or family HDHP, you can usually qualify to put money into an HSA to fund future health care expenditures.

You can sock away $3,850 (individual account) in 2023 with untaxed income, which you can later use to pay for medical expenses you incur. For a family account, you can save up to $7,750.

HDHPs can look extremely enticing due to their low premiums, but many people jump into them without understanding the potential costs they’ll be paying for out of pocket.

While these plans are required to cover 10 essential services and preventative care, as required by the Affordable Care Act, most other services and medicines are paid for in full at the insurer-contracted rates with providers and pharmacies.

For people who have chronic conditions, and need regular medical care, an HDHP may not be the best plan. But if you are healthier and younger and don’t regularly see the doctor, you can save on your premiums by enrolling in an HDHP.


More Employers Expand Mental Health Benefits

American workers are more stressed than ever coming out of the pandemic, and an increasing number of people are also struggling with mental health issues. 

Sadly, the number of people dying from drugs, alcohol and suicide hit record levels in 2022.

When someone is battling addiction or has mental health issues, it affects all aspects of their life, including work. Stress can have a significant adverse impact on business. It costs employers an average of $300 billion a year in stress-related health care and missed work, according to a Harris Poll conducted for Purchasing Power.

That’s why more employers are stepping up to provide their workers with benefits to support behavioral health and emotional well-being.

Employee assistance programs

One of the most common ways that businesses have offered support is through employer-paid employee assistance programs (EAPs), which offer a set amount of free mental health services sessions, typically topping out at five to eight per year. But for many people who are experiencing mental health issues, this may not be enough.

Some larger employers have started offering mental health benefits that cover a higher number of therapy sessions and wider range of treatment options, including therapy and mental health coaching.

Additionally, studies have found that offering a mix of online services such as digital lessons and in-person or virtual therapy can lead to lower therapy dropout rates, plus higher rates of abstinence for clients with substance abuse issues.

As a result, some employers are offering programs that cover a spectrum of behavioral health care options, such as:

  • Self-care apps for employees experiencing occasional stress
  • In-person therapy sessions
  • Virtual therapy sessions
  • Prescription medication to treat common, diagnosable conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Companies usually offer EAPs at no cost to their employees. Most employers operate their EAP through a third party administrator, which can be crucial to the success of your EAP.

Employees have to feel comfortable discussing professional and personal problems with the EAP administrator, and if your business administers your EAP, it could prevent employees from coming forward and asking for the help they require.

That said, it’s up to you to make sure your staff understands that they can talk about mental health without fear of it affecting their jobs. You should train management and supervisors on the importance of confidentiality and job protection if one of your staff asks for assistance or raises mental health concerns.

Don’t forget your health insurance

There is an extensive list of mental health services your health plan should provide your staff. These services include outpatient and inpatient treatment, telemedicine, medication and counseling. Each of these attributes can be vital for treating mental illnesses.

Of course, there will likely be some out-of-pocket costs for your employees that use these services under their group health plans.

One service that is growing and improving success rates is the continuing evolution of telemedicine. According to the benefits news site BenefitsPro, telemedicine can make getting care anonymous and convenient, so patients can receive it where they’re most comfortable. This is especially valuable when dealing with the sensitive matter of mental health.

Other options

American workers are more stressed than ever, and some may not need counseling services from an EAP to reduce their life stress. Besides offering an EAP, there are other benefits that you can extend to your workers that can help them better deal with the ordeals of life and work, including:

Parental leave — Becoming a new parent is extremely stressful. If you don’t offer parental leave, and instead require parents to take unpaid time off, such as under the Family and Medical Leave Act, this stress is compounded. Paternal leave is paid time off for new parents, either mom or dad, after the birth or adoption of a child. It gives parents the opportunity to take care of their new child without the stress of work getting in the way. 

The benefit to the employer is that when the worker returns from their leave, they are more productive, sooner. Consider offering this to both male and female employees.

Paid time off — PTO combines sick leave and vacation time. It gives employees a set bank of time off at the beginning of each year. Employees can then choose whenever and however they want to use this time off. 

Flexible work — Flexible work is a great way to help employees with mental health issues. This benefit can include flexible hours (selecting hours they will work), flexible schedule (selecting when they work) and flexible location (like telecommuting).


Insurers Promise to Keep Covering Preventative Services

Most health insurers plan to continue offering free preventative care services despite a federal judge having imposed a nationwide injunction on an Affordable Care Act requirement that these services are covered with no out-of-pocket costs on the part of patients, according to a letter by industry trade groups.

With concern growing that this important part of the ACA would suddenly be revoked, some of the nation’s largest insurers and industry trade associations penned a letter to lawmakers, stating that: “The overwhelming majority do not anticipate making changes to no-cost-share preventive services and do not expect disruptions in coverage of preventive care while the case proceeds through the courts.

“Our associations have long supported preventive care and continue to do so. By responding together, we wish to make clear our strong support for continued access to preventive health care for millions of Americans who rely on it. “

Signatories to the letter include the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the American Benefits Council and America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The letter was written in response to Democrats on health committees in the U.S. Senate and House or Representatives asking for information from 12 of the nation’s largest health insurers on how they plan to respond to the decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Braidwood Management Inc. vs. Becerra.

That decision struck down the ACA requirement that most health plans and issuers cover without cost-sharing the more than 100 preventative services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

The judge in the case reasoned that the ACA requirement to cover with no cost-sharing medications for HIV prevention violates the rights of the plaintiffs who have religious objections to these medicines. The order immediately blocked the requirement nationwide to cover not only the HIV-prevention medicines, but all preventative services recommended by the USPSTF.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has appealed the decision to the U.S. Fifth District Circuit Court and the Justice Department has asked that the decision be paused as the appeal process plays out.

The lawmakers also asked if the insurance carriers would honor the ACA’s rules until all appeals are exhausted, including all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fallout from the ruling

The federal court’s decision has caused panic and concern among patients’ rights advocates that insurers would immediately stop covering these services, which have become an essential part of health care in the last decade.

If the ruling stands and survives appeals, insurers could impose deductibles and copays for potentially lifesaving screening tests.

The lawmakers on April 13 wrote in their letter to the insurance industry: “We are very concerned that the decision will unnecessarily cause confusion, force consumers to pay out-of-pocket, and result in patients foregoing preventive services screenings and treatment altogether. There is evidence that even modest cost-sharing deters patients from accessing care and exposure to cost-sharing reduces the use of preventive care.”

The trade associations that responded to the lawmakers’ request to continue honoring the ACA rules said that preventative care is popular and effective, and that the decision from the federal judge likely is just the start of a lengthy legal process.

If the decision were to stand, there are still some preventative screenings that are not covered by the ACA, and it would not affect all states. There are 15 states with laws requiring insurers to cover with no patient cost-sharing the same preventative services that the federal law requires.