Life is stressful in the best of times. We definitely are not in the best of times.
We’re dealing with a contentious presidential election during a deadly pandemic.
Plus, flu season is almost here. Mother Nature keeps whacking us with disasters. Kids are going back to school or not, both prospects producing parental problems. And way too many folks are unemployed or are worrying about losing their jobs.
Whew! Enough already 2020.
If you still have health insurance, you may be able to use it or its related medical benefits to help you cope with coronavirus (and other) stress.
Some remedies are covered by the medical policies themselves, which are a tax-free benefit if you get your insurance through work.
Other stress relieving treatments may be paid for from a medical flexible spending account (FSA) associated with your workplace policy or, if you have a high deductible health plan, that coverage’s health savings account (HSA).
Below are 10 suggested tax-favored medical moves that could help make your life right now a little less anxious.
1. Talk to your doctor or therapist: If you experiencing physical symptoms that have you or your family concerned, talk to your doctor. And you probably won’t have to go into the doctor’s office. Pandemic distancing protocols have made telehealth calls to physicians more popular and covered by most policies.
If it’s a mental health issue, it might not be covered by your health plan. But you likely can use your FSA or HSA money to pay for those anxiety easing conversations. Check with your program’s administrator about any additional requirements, such as a letter of medical necessity.
|Help Hotlines If you don’t have a mental health provider or any insurance, you still can get some free help from a variety of telephone hotlines that are staffed by trained personnel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a special web page with links to these services. Some of particular note are:National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English or 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish. If you prefer, there’s a Lifeline Crisis Chat option.National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522.National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453. It’s always OK to ask for help. If you don’t have someone nearby to whom you can comfortably turn, then please call the appropriate hotline.|
2. Get a flu shot: The only thing worse than a global pandemic is one that converges with the usual flu season. Don’t take any chances. If a second wave of coronavirus arrives during flu season, which is just starting, you’ll be in better shape to avoid the double whammy by getting a flu shot. Most insurance policies pay for this preventative care.
3. Cover your COBRA costs: Folks who lost their jobs also lost their workplace medical coverage, unless they decided to continue it under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, usually referred to by its acronym COBRA. But such continuation is costly. You pay the full share of the policy; that’s the premiums that used to come out of your paychecks and your former employer’s portion, too. But if you have an HSA, you can use that account’s money to pay COBRA premiums. Note, however, that you cannot use FSA money to pay COBRA costs.
4. Find ways to get some Zzzzs: Have you become a COVID-19 insomniac? You are not alone. Nowadays, lots of people are having trouble falling and/or staying asleep. If it’s serious, you might need a prescription sleep remedy. See #1 above to discuss it with your doctor. If your no-rest situation isn’t that extreme, there are many over-the-counter (OTC) options, ranging from tablets that contain Melatonin or antihistamines to herbal remedies to sleep masks. These costs can be paid by FSA and HSA funds. Even better, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act included a provision that make all such account eligible OTC products available without having to get an Rx from your doctor.
5. Keep your blood pressure in check: Are you watching too much cable TV news? Are your kiddos constantly bugging you for help with online lessons? Are your in-laws, who are quarantining with you, finally getting on your last nerve? Whatever the cause, you need to watch your blood-pressure. Use your medical account money to purchase a blood pressure monitor so you can keep an eye on it.
6. Manage more than skin-deep issues: Your skin often is a first indicator of stress. If you’re breaking out in hives, OTC medications can help. Other COVID-specific skin issues, such as seriously dry hands due to the necessary sanitizer use or face mask-induced acne, aka maskne, also can be treated by FSA and HSA eligible store-shelf products. Note, though, that while items for mainly cosmetic complexion purposes might help improve your pandemic spirits, they generally do not qualify for the tax-favored funds’ usage.Masking as a coronavirus precaution is causing some skin problems for many. (Photo by Edmond Dantès via Pexels)
7. Buy a new thermometer: With everyone constantly checking their temperatures for any sign of coronavirus, you definitely need more than one thermometer. Your FSA or HSA money can pay for various types of thermometers, including no-contact forehead readers.
8. Confirm, or not, if you’re expecting: Not to get too personal, but some couples have found self-isolation has been a real relationship boon. If you need to find out whether your renewed intimacy might mean a growing family, you can use your medical savings account money to buy pregnancy tests. If you don’t want that to happen, condoms also are covered.
9. Don’t overlook your eyes: If you’ve spent most of your COVID-19 isolation time catching up on your reading or binge streaming television shows, you might have discovered that you need new glasses or, gasp, reading glasses. Contact your vision specialist about a coronavirus safe eye exam. Or if your glasses are still fine but you keep misplacing them, order another prescription pair. You also can get prescription sunglasses to wear on the walks you take to break up quarantine time. Since health insurance policies typically don’t include vision care, you can use FSA or HSA money to pay.
10. Explore alternative therapies: Perhaps your poor sleep (see #4) has a physical cause. Instead of traditional medicine in these cases, many folks turn to alternatives, such as yoga, chiropractic treatments or massage therapy. All those options can be paid with FSA and HSA funds as long as your doctor says they are needed to treat a medical condition, not simply for stress reduction. But that medical situation could be the cause of your stress, so win-win! In case the use of the medical savings here are ever questioned, be sure to get the doctor’s advice in writing after you, per #1 on this list, have a telemed consultation.