taxes

FSA use-or-lose deadline nears

Don't forget about your routine annual physical exam. If your insurance doesn't pay or only covers a limited amount for preventative care, using your FSA to cover it is a good financial and health care move. This could include skin-cancer screenings and cholesterol checks. "Go for a checkup, spend out your account and then know you're OK," says LeValley Cocovinis.

FSA cash also is great for paying for alternative treatments that are generally not covered by health plans, such as acupuncture or chiropractic therapy.

Vision care is another area, says LeValley Cocovinis, where employer health care plans offer little or no coverage. Your FSA money can be used to pay for eye exams, a new or extra pairs of glasses, even Lasik eye surgery.

"Prescription glasses, especially sunglasses, are expensive, but having an extra pair is useful," says LeValley Cocovinis. "And don't forget about extra contact lenses, especially the disposable ones."

The same holds true if you're having trouble hearing. Sometimes pride prevents individuals from admitting they need hearing aids, but often the costs of an examination and the hearing device can also be roadblocks. An FSA can help with the financial component, including the purchase of extra hearing aid batteries.

Replenish medicine cabinets

It's no secret you can use FSA money to compensate for any prescription co-payments. You've likely been turning those into your account manager throughout the year.

If you need to refill some prescriptions now, LeValley Cocovinis suggests buying in bulk. But FSA money also can be used for many over-the-counter medications.

Pick up extra headache medications, as well as cold remedies to combat those sniffles that always seem to show up this time of year. "You want to look at the expiration date, but there's no reason not to go to the local drugstore now and buy everything you use," says LeValley Cocovinis.

Consider replenishing or purchasing a first-aid kit. "Get yourself a really good first-aid kit," says LeValley Cocovinis. "Since it will qualify as a medical expenditure, get the big one, the $50 one. The Mylar blanket, ice pack and all the items can really come in handy."

Other often-overlooked FSA items LeValley Cocovinis says you might want to pick up while you're at the drugstore include OTC contraceptives and Rogaine. Medical equipment such as blood-pressure monitors, thermometers, and neck, wrist or other joint braces also qualify for FSA reimbursement, as do dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, and herbal and botanical items -- as long as you use them to treat a current illness, not simply to augment your general health.

If you're unsure about exactly which OTC items your FSA will cover, ask your benefits manager or plan administrator. Many grocery and drugstores also help out customers with cash register receipts that note FSA-eligible purchases.

Drugstore.com, the online version of your local pharmacy, also has a special "FSA store" featuring OTC products most commonly reimbursed from the accounts. Even if you don't want to buy from the site, it's a good place to browse for ideas on how to zero out your FSA.

Read last year's story on using FSA money so you don't lose it.

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