By Kate Tormey
Last weekend, I went to the drug store to pick up some over-the-counter medicine. (Full dislosure: These may have been related to the late night I had on New Year's Eve and/or the several cocktails inbibed during said evening.)
It's 2011 already (yay!), so I attempted to swipe my newly activated flexible spending account debit card. But the cashier stopped me in my tracks. "You can't use your flexible spending account for over-the-counter stuff anymore," she said. I study health care policy for a living, so you'd think I would remember this.
For those of you who aren't policy wonks like I am, let me review: Under health care reform, the government no longer offers tax-free purchases of over-the-counter medications through these accounts. You can still purchase prescriptions and pay for medical bills with your FSA, but your days of paying for Tylenol with it are over (unless you have a prescription).
Why, you ask? Well, it turns out that all of those tax-exempt purchases were costing the U.S. government some major dough. So in exchange for things like offering us free preventive care and keeping insurance companies from dropping us like Lady Gaga's day-old meat dress, lawmakers decided to phase out this provision. The new revenue from the change will help pay for the bill's $787 billion price tag.
Consider yourself warned. Oh, and come 2014, you'll only be able to put $2,500 into these accounts each year (which is way less than I use anyway).
Even while some members of Congress are trying to repeal it, some other provisions of health care reform took effect on Jan. 1:
- Preventive care for seniors is now covered.
- Discounts on prescription drugs are now expanded for seniors when they reach the coverage gap (read more about the donut hole).
- Health insurance companies must meet a new medical loss ratio, meaning they must spend 80% to 85% of your premiums on health care expenses.
(For a full timeline of all the provisions of the health care bill, check out this awesome timeline from the Kaiser Family Foundation.)
This year, I put about $650 into my health savings account, which is less than Bundle predicts I would spend on health care ($816).
I may run out before the year is up, but it's better than the alternative — these accounts are a "use it or lose it" proposition: Whatever money left in the account will not roll over to next year.