Understanding Expansion of FSAs, HSAs to Pay for Health Care Needs

September 16, 2020

A cost-saving provision made possible by the recent COVID-19 relief CARES Act now allows Americans to leverage pre-tax funds from their flexible spending arrangements [FSAs] or health savings accounts [HSAs] to purchase over-the-counter medicines and menstrual care products.

A cost-saving provision made possible by the recent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) relief CARES Act now allows Americans to leverage pre-tax funds from their flexible spending arrangements [FSAs] or health savings accounts [HSAs] to purchase over-the-counter medicines and menstrual care products, said Marsha Barnes, CEO and founder of The Finance Bar, and Taylor Holgate, director of government affairs at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Transcript

AJMC®: Hello, I'm Matthew Gavidia. Today on the MJH Life Sciences’ Medical World News, The American Journal of Managed Care® is pleased to welcome Marsha Barnes, chief executive officer and founder of The Finance Bar, and Taylor Holgate, director of Government Affairs at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

AJMC®: The recent COVID-19 relief CARES Act has made it possible for Americans to use their pre-tax dollars from their FSAs [flexible spending arrangements] and HSAs [health savings accounts], as we just alluded to, to purchase over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, as well as menstrual care products.

Can you explain the financial side of things, Marsha, that this opportunity presents for Americans in addressing their health care needs?

Barnes: Yeah, definitely. This is money that they can now shift in their budget from a monthly personal care expense to their savings account. So, it's a total win on both ends, being able to now put more money in your savings account and care for your health care needs at the same time. So, it's a win-win.

AJMC®: Taylor, can you talk about some of the health-related aspects of this as well?

Holgate: So, there’s a big convenience factor. The way the rules used to be, if you wanted to use your HSA money on OTC medicine, you'd have to go get a prescription from your doctor in order to use it. If you're planning ahead and you're trying to make the most of the tools that are available to you today and manage your health care expenses, you would still have to get a prescription from a doctor even though the product is available without a prescription.

In the time of COVID-19, it doesn't make sense under normal circumstances, but it certainly doesn't make sense during the coronavirus pandemic when folks are trying to socially distance and avoid contact with other people when they can do so. Going to the doctor is another step along the way.

So, if you have a more minor illness or you're just picking stuff up for your family so you can be prepared and you don't feel like you need to go to a doctor, we don't want to be sending folks to the doctor that don't need to go there. It's a big consumer convenience factor, a big time saving, cost savings, when they can just now swipe their debit cards at the cash register of the drugstore and get the medicines that they need that way.

AJMC®: Additionally, what are the next steps your respective organizations are considering or currently implementing to assist Americans in better managing their health and finances amid the pandemic? Taylor, you can go first.

Holgate: Well, this is the education campaign. It's a new benefit we want. We want insurers to know about it, but we want them to know that we're here as a resource if people are confused. We have a brand new website, TaxFreeOTC.org, with a lot of consumer facing information about this benefit change. It is a new benefit. It did kind of happen in the middle of the year. So, it's not like it was included in the insurance materials that people get through open enrollment, and people might have questions about what this means.

So, we have a consumer-friendly website about what that means, and we'll keep doing interviews with folks that have questions to spread the word and encouraging people to number one, check out our website, and then if you have specific questions about your benefits, your favorite products, or your favorite brand of products, I would direct you to your health insurance provider who's going to be able to answer detailed questions about your own personal situation.

OTC medicines are a huge saving to the individual and to the health care system. They're affordable, they're accessible. We did a study last year, every $1 that's spent on an OTC medicine saves the health care system in general $7. So, it's a good option for you, if it meets your needs you should consider it, and we want to make sure consumers know how to make the most of the benefits that they have today. This is a change that opens up an option that people didn't have before the pandemic where they might have resources in an account that they might want to access right now for this purpose.

Barnes: Then for us over the Finance Bar, I would say that we are very diligent about staying ahead of updates from the CARES act that can benefit our audience in its entirety, and then also to our direct clients by being the voice to translate what a lot of this means for them. I think as Taylor mentioned before, it's very important to know the convenience that they now have with that, because it's just so important because consumers' minds are just planted on so many areas right now.

Then, additionally just remaining readily available to assist them with how to financially navigate this season and beyond.

AJMC®: To learn more, visit our website at ajmc.com. I’m Matthew Gavidia, thanks for joining us!