Friday, November 9, 2012

Flex Spending Accounts for 2013

It is that time of year again when companies hold their annual open enrollment. This is when employees have the opportunity to change medical or dental plans, and to opt into making contributions to a flexible spending account (FSA). In general, a flexible spending account allows one to deposit pre-tax dollars into the account to pay for medical expenses, or to pay for dependent care. (Note that these are two different types of accounts.) The ability to use pre-tax money to pay for expenses is a good benefit that can save you money.

Starting in 2011, there was an important change to FSA plans. Specifically, the rules have changed for the purchase of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and drugs (such as OTC allergy medicines, pain relievers, antacids, cough medicine, etc.). This change is due to the federal health care reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA). (This was a part of President Obama's health care reform plan.)

Previously, all of these OTC purchases were covered by flex spending accounts. However, starting in 2011 these OTC drugs and medicines cannot be reimbursed through an FSA unless they are prescribed by a medical practitioner to treat a specific medical condition. So, the bottom line is if you plan to purchase these OTC items through a flexible spending plan, you'd better have a prescription first.

One other thing to keep in mind when contributing to an FSA is that most flex spending accounts operate on a "use it or lose it" basis. This means that any balance you have in the account at the end of the calendar year is forfeited to your employer. This is something that I would rather not do, since I never want to leave any money on the table.

Warning:
In the current economy, I also want to warn my readers of one more potential hazard with FSAs. Having been downsized twice in the last decade, I can tell you that the "use it or lose it" provision also applies if you are terminated without cause (i.e., laid off). Any money that you have left in your FSA plan when you are terminated will be kept by your former employer. This may seem totally unfair, but that has been my real life experience.

PFS

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the tip about when you get terminated/laid off! I didn't know about that. This change has been around since 2011, like you said. I wonder if there will be any further changes after the whole fiscal cliff deal goes through.

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