I finally filed away all the paper copies of last year’s tax documentation and for the first time, I had more medical paperwork than work receipts.

Yep, 2018 (like 2017) was one of those medical years. And while I’m still enriching various Austin doctors, labs and hospitals with follow-up care in 2019, my conditions aren’t considered chronic. Yet.

And no, basic aging doesn’t count.

A chronic medical condition generally is one where the disease lasts for more than three months.

10-Common-Chronic-Conditions-Older-Adults_National Council on Aging

More help covering chronic health issues: The good news for folks with chronic illnesses is that medical science has ways to alleviate at the symptoms, if not fully cure the diseases, with preventative care.

Those treatments, however, can be expensive.

This week, the U.S. Treasury Department took steps to ease some of that medical cost pressure.

Certain sufferers of chronic conditions, specifically those who have a high deductible health plan (HDHP) and associated health savings account (HSA), now have more access to their plans to cover their preventative care costs.

The insurance specifics were announced July 17 in Internal Revenue Service Notice 2019-45, which provides more flexibility in paying for such treatments as glucose or blood-pressure monitors and regular medications for such ailments as asthma, congestive heart failure and diabetes.

That’s welcome news to the growing number of HDHP participants, many of whom deal with chronic illnesses.

HDHP popularity: There’s been a growing shift to HDHPs as medical insurance costs have increased.

Around 20 million Americans have opted for this coverage and its accompanying HSA option because HDHP premiums typically are lower than the monthly payments for traditional medical insurance.

To cover the higher deductible, an HDHP participant can open an HSA. In addition to paying for out-of-pocket medical costs, an HSA offers tax advantages, three in fact.

First, the money you put into the medical account is tax free. This is usually done through salary deferral at your workplace. The amount is taken out of your paycheck before taxes are calculated. If you make HSA contributions directly, the amount you contribute are tax-deductible.

Second, the earnings on the money you contribute to your HSA grows tax free.

Third, when you use the HSA money to pay allowable out-of-pocket medical expenses, those withdrawals also are tax-free. 

HDHP problems: For many, this HDHP/HSA coverage works out well, both medically and for their financial well-being.

But when a chronic illness appears, an HDHP’s steep deductible becomes problematic. It can be difficult to overcome, leaving people with chronic illnesses footing preventative care costs out of their own pockets.

With this week’s announcement, HDHP participants now can use their HSA dollars to pay for certain preventative treatments before they meet the deductible.