Medical Supplies You Can Still Score With Flex Spending

by Mikey Rox on 8 July 2011 16 comments

After I graduated college in 2003, 12 months passed before I landed a full-time job.

During that time, one of my wisdom teeth decided to rear its ugly head — abscess and all. After a regimen of penicillin reduced the swelling, I had to have the tooth removed, which was a problem. I didn’t have health insurance, and that meant an appointment at the local dental school for extraction.

Hand to God, before I was called back to the dentist’s chair, a girl came out crying. Her mother asked what was wrong and the girl blubbered the only six words you don’t want to hear before dental surgery — “They took out the wrong tooth.” I just about peed my pants in fear, and from that day forward, I put my search for full-time employment into hyperdrive.

When I landed my first job with full benefits, I was ecstatic. Finally, I could fall ill whenever I wanted. More than a generous amount of sick days, my company also offered a flex spending program. But as fate would have it, I never got sick while working with that company. Because I never had to visit a doctor or purchase meds, there was a lot of money in my flex spending account at the end of the year. I’m not sure where I thought the unused portion went, but I didn’t anticipate that I could use it for anything besides doctor bills and the like.

Boy was I wrong. A co-worker informed me that there’s a long list of health-related items that I could purchase with the money in my account. All I had to do was go to Target, fill up my cart, and submit the receipt to the program for reimbursement. Of course, I was skeptical. But $300 and an apocalypse-sized bin full of survival necessities later, I was a believer. (See also: What You Need to Know About Your FSA)

The bad news is that flex-spending rules changed starting in 2011, making over-the-counter items more difficult to purchase with flex-spending funds. Some of the items that you can still get, however, may surprise you. All of the following items that I stockpiled are still flex-spending eligible, although some require a prescription from your doctor. The ones that need a prescription are noted as such below.

Bandages

Boxes and boxes of Band-Aids — the brand-name kind, too. Small, medium, and large. Little round ones. Bandages with Harry Potter on them. If you ever scrape your knee, I’m your man.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Contact Lens Cleaning Solution

Because before I met my husband I hosted a lot of sleepovers. You’d think that people who can barely see would remember their Bausch & Lomb.

Condoms

Let me rephrase that…before I met my husband I hosted a lot of safe sleepovers.

Eye Drops

To reduce the redness caused by recreational activities. (With prescription.)

First-Aid Kits

I bought one to keep in my shoulder bag, one for my pantry, and one for the back of my car. The auto kit came with a super cool “HELP” sign and other I-do-not-wanna-die-in-this-vehicle supplies.

Motion Sickness Supplies and Medication

Sea-Bands and motion-sickness medications are excellent items to have on hand if you’re an avid traveler. (With prescription for the medication.)

Pregnancy Test Kits

No way, no how would I ever need these, but they came in handy for friends.

Sunscreen With SPF 30 or Greater

This stuff is expensive, and I’m so fair-skinned that I can get sunburned at midnight. You just know somebody at the beach is going to ask to borrow it, too. Now you can let them. (With prescription.)

Believe it or not, these are just a few of the items I bought. I made sure the bill reached the limit of the available funds in the flex spending account by stocking up on pain relievers, antihistamines, chest rubs, cold and flu medications — whatever was on this list, really. Several of those items now require a prescription, unfortunately, but the list  provides a full run-down of what you do and do not need a doctor's note for.

[Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect current flex-spending rules.]

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Guest's picture
michelle

I don't get how you're scoring free money. It's your money in the first place.

You're not "saving" on any of those items unless you planned/needed to buy them anyhow and then you're saving a miniscule amount of state/federal tax that you would have spent if your employer had taxed you on that $5 per Pedialyte.

Plus, the law on this changed last year and so you can't even do most of those purchases under flexible spending anymore:

Flexible Spending, a Little Less So
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/17/health/17patient.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx...

Mikey Rox's picture

Thanks for the comment, Michelle, and the link. At the end of my piece you'll see a link also that details what's available with flex spending and what requires pre-approval or a prescription as of Jan. 2011. As for the funds in my personal account, I can't remember if my employer allotted extra money above my salary or I had to put a minimum amount into the flex spending account, but either way at the end of the year that money would have gone to waste if I hadn't used it to stock up on eligible medical and health products. Thanks again!

Guest's picture
Mary

You do actually save some money, because you're using untaxed income. So it is cheaper than if you bought those goods with cash from your account that you were taxed on in your paycheck.

Guest's picture
Carolyn

I was under the impression that the health care reform bill has disallowed these uses for FSA monies beginning in 2011. Can you provide information about whether that's true?

Mikey Rox's picture

Hi, Carolyn! At the end of the post there's a link that should help clarify eligible expenses. Here it is again: https://www.adpcobrafsa.com/wcms15/697-healthcare-eligible-expenses. Hope that helps.

Guest's picture
Guest

This changed as of this year. Now, while those things are still allowed under flex spending, you have to have a doctor's prescription for them.

I you can get your doctor to write you a prescription for bandaids, sunscreeen, etc., AND get the pharmacy to accept the prescription for OTC items, you'll be able to use your flex spending dollars.

Larger pharmacies have been rejecting these prescriptions lately (manpower and supply issues - they have to go pull them item from the store, print the prescription label, etc.).

Guest's picture
Guest

@ Carolyn, I was mortified when I saw this article, because the rules have changed as of this year! I glanced and the headline and thought there was something I missed in the new rules, but this post cites an example from 2003?! IRRELEVANT!!

Here's a link to the severe limitations on FSAs that started Jan. 1st, 2011.
http://www.irs.gov/irs/article/0,,id=227301,00.html
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p969.pdf

The way I understand it, essentially everything OTC you claim on your FSA requires a doctor's prescription, now... ridiculous.. how's that supposed to save you money? Forcing you to go to the doctor to get a prescription for Aleve when you have a headache?

I think WiseBread should be ashamed for posting a wholly out-of-date post like this.

Guest's picture
Guest

That link is helpful, thanks for the PDF. Wouldn't have known about the things that ARE still allowed otherwise,

Guest's picture
Lynn

You apparently don't realize, despite all the articles about the changes last year, that you can NO LONGER GET these items with your FSA account without a prescription. Look it up - FSA rules for 2011.

You need to retract this article.

Guest's picture
Sal S.

Hi there - I'm somewhat confused by the word "free" in your post. You put the money into your FSA each paycheck. So, you essentially just spent your money - pre-tax. You saved money for sure (your tax bracket percentage to be exact), but it surely isn't free.

Also, I saw you included the link, but for 2011 many items are no longer eligible or require a Doctor's prescription for eligibility, even if the item is sold over the counter. Here is a handy list that I use, as it is managed by one of the largest FSA vendors.
https://www.wageworks.com/employee/health-care/expenses/fsa.htm

Guest's picture
Guest

this isn't true anymore. due to obama's heath care bill. fsa cannot be used to pay for any over the counter items anymore.

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks to everyone who pointed out the errors in this post -- it has been updated to reflect the 2011 rules.

Guest's picture
Guest

As a frequent user of FSA funds for chronic medical conditions, I can say that not *all* over the counter items have been removed from the eligable list. Bandages, braces, thermometers, and other "Devices" are all reimbursable without a prescription, as well as the contact lens solution. Also, while you need a prescription for most over the counter meds to be reimbursed (dated before you bought it), you can usually just included it with your claim; it doesn't need to be processed by the pharmacy.

Guest's picture
Claire

Wow, you must have a REALLY slack FSA company. We have a prescription from the doctor for over the counter Prilosec and the FSA company laughed in our face and wouldn't reimburse us. They told us that not only do we need a prescription, but for EVERYTHING over the counter (contact solution, contact cleaner, etc), we are required to get the doctor to fill out a "statement of medical necessity". It's a bunch of bureaucratic BS that makes me want to pull my hair out; we HAVE a prescription...the IRS states that is enough, so why are we getting such grief over it??? (See http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p969.pdf page 1, right in the middle of the page...argh!!)

Guest's picture
sokun

I'm personally able to get cheap medications like Zyprexa with flex spending.

Guest's picture
Jared

Excellent article that appears up to date from a physician's standpoint. The new rules will be a hassle for patients, physicians, and even the government employees that review this stuff.