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Saving a Bundle on Healthcare, Part 2

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If you use nutritional supplements and alternative therapies as part of your health care, you may finally be compelled to thank the Republicans for something you’ll like (that was not an easy sentence for me to write). It was during the Bush administration that the concept of Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) came into being.

The two most common MSAs are the Health Savings Account (HSA) and the Flexible Spending Account (FSA). The two are similar in that an employee is allowed to accumulate pre-tax dollars (deducted from her paycheck) in a special savings account that can be drawn on to cover medically related expenses not covered by her usual health insurance. The main difference is that money in an HSA can roll over and accumulate from year to year. In the event of death, it can be left to a beneficiary. If you lose your job, you keep your HSA and can use it to help with your COBRA expenses.

The FSA, on the other hand, has use-it-or-lose-it status. It’s re-set to zero annually. The upside is that your employer pre-funds your FSA at the beginning of each year, with you essentially re-paying the money out of every paycheck.

What I’ve discovered is that most people don’t bother to apply for their MSAs, maybe because they don’t understand them or don’t want any more deductions from their paycheck. But MSAs are a real boon to users of alternative therapies and nutritional supplements because both fulfill the requirement of being medical expenses not covered by regular health insurance.

Alternative therapies are literally anything from acupuncture to yoga. You can even apply your MSA to those portions of chiropractic care that your conventional insurance may not cover (like deductible and co-payments). All you need is a note from your primary care physician stating the diagnosis and that the treatment is medically necessary. Currently, you can pay for your therapies using a special debit card you’ll be given when you enroll in an MSA. Some employers haven’t instituted the debit card yet, so save your receipts to submit for reimbursement later.

Being reimbursed for your nutritional supplement purchases is the other real advantage of your MSA. In this situation, you need to have documentation from a physician that you are using each supplement to treat or prevent specific medical conditions. Since virtually every supplement in a health food store has been shown to either treat or prevent something, this is both easy and true. You generally only need this documentation in your file once a year.

To see a typical MSA letter documenting nutritional supplement use, click here. Save all documentation in the unlikely event of an IRS audit.

The WholeHealth Chicago Apothecary keeps a record of all your supplement purchases. Whenever you need a letter to submit for MSA reimbursement, simply call (773-296- 6700, ext. 2001) or send an email to apothecary@wholehealthchicago.com. Currently, we can only provide such letters for supplements purchased in our apothecary.

For more information on the concept of MSAs, which I’ve covered only briefly, check these links to the Wikipedia entries on Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts.

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