This article originally ran on USAToday.com.
In years past, depleting money in your health care flexible spending account before the end of the year was fairly straightforward. You made a midnight dash to the nearest 24-hour drugstore and bought enough cold medicine, ibuprofen and cough syrup to treat a year’s worth of allergies, hangovers and scratchy throats.
Bandages, hot and cold first aid wraps, carpal tunnel wrist supports and sunscreen are just a few of the non-prescription items that qualify as valid expenditures for most health care flexible spending accounts.
This year, though, that strategy won’t fly. You can still spend unused money in your flex account at the drugstore, but you’ll need to be more careful about what you buy.
Flexible spending accounts allow you to use pretax dollars to pay for dental and medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance. They’re funded by deductions from your paycheck, and you must decide when you enroll in your employer’s insurance plan how much you want to contribute during the year.
At most companies, any money left in the account at year-end is forfeited, which is probably why only about 20% of eligible employees sign up for the accounts.
A provision in the health care reform act signed into law last year makes the task of zeroing out flex plans even more challenging. This year, account participants won’t be reimbursed for purchases of over-the-counter drugs unless they have a doctor’s prescription. […]