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Which products — and people — are left out of the FSA bonanza?

Stephanie Hughes Dec 28, 2022
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Feminine hygiene products, like tampons, became FSA-eligible in 2020. Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Which products — and people — are left out of the FSA bonanza?

Stephanie Hughes Dec 28, 2022
Heard on:
Feminine hygiene products, like tampons, became FSA-eligible in 2020. Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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It’s a time of year for family and friends, feasts and fatbergs, and figuring out how to spend every last dollar in your flexible spending account.

As of March, 47% of civilian workers and 43% of private industry workers had access to an FSA, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those accounts allow you to set aside pre-tax wages for eligible medical expenses.

While some employers offer grace periods to spend money after the year ends, many have a deadline of midnight on Dec. 31. That means the end-of-the-year rush to spend the money is on — or else it’s forfeited.

I’m feeling the heat: There are three days left in 2022, and I have $325.41 cents left in my FSA. So, yesterday, I went to FSAstore.com to see what I could get. There was a no-touch forehead thermometer, a vibrating and heat foam roller and … a chirp wheel? (Apparently, it’s a roller meant to relieve back pain.)

There were also more traditional supplies, like Advil and Band-Aids featuring Baby Yoda. The IRS sets the parameters of what counts as a medical expense for FSA purposes.

And Rachel Rouleau, the chief compliance officer for Health E-Commerce, the parent brand for the FSA store, said they’d like to see the IRS include more products. 

“For example, you can’t buy most vitamins and other types of dietary supplements. You can currently only buy prenatal vitamins and glucosamine,” she said. “We think that should change.”

In 2020, one thing that changed was the addition of feminine hygiene products, like tampons and pantyliners.  

Nathan Fox is chief financial officer at Thinx, which sells underwear for people who deal with incontinence or who are menstruating. Thinx sees a spike in sales every time an FSA deadline is near, Fox said, and being FSA-eligible has expanded its market. 

“It’s gone from being a product that was more of a niche to something that is now approaching mainstream,” he said.

Still, even if the kind of items eligible for FSA dollars are expanding, lots of people are left out. 

“You have to be able to afford to put the money aside in the first place, even if you know you’re not going to incur that expense for three months, six months, one year down the road,” said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, who is with the New York University School of Law and author of the book “Periods Gone Public.”

Weiss-Wolf would also like FSAs to be more user-friendly, so people can make changes midyear and adjust how much they’re putting in.

That way, they don’t end up buying a chirp wheel if they don’t need one. 

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