ON YOUR SIDE: How to save time as many rush to spend health benefits

Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 5:30 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2021 at 6:50 PM CST
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HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - As we count down to a new year, a lot of people will wish they had a little extra time in 2021 because they haven’t yet spent the money in their flexible spending account, also known as FSA.

Those accounts allow you to make tax-free contributions from your paychecks to cover things like dependent care and medical expenses.

If your plan follows the calendar year, you have to spend the money in your account by Dec. 31. Health professionals say they see a large increase in patients this time of year due to the calendar cancellation, but that is only amplified by the priorities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A lot of us can be in a rush this time of year to get into the doctor or get prescriptions filled within the calendar year. For those with flexible spending accounts, money not used before Dec. 31 can be lost.

”I try to, but usually I forget, so it’s usually a come at the last moment or when they call me, and then I remember,” said Cody Whitney, who was using time on his lunch break to pick up prescriptions.

It’s estimated Americans lose $400 million a year forfeited from their FSA accounts. So getting that spent can create a lot of work for health professionals.

“We’re getting a lot of statements for people’s insurance, so they can pick those up if needed,” said Zack Wheeler, head pharmacist at Sam Alexander Health Mart Pharmacy. “A lot of Medicare plans will be changing, so one thing we ask of people is to let us know if that is changing. Usually you will get a letter from your insurance company. We’re doing a lot of transfer, a lot of refills so if you could just give us a day or two’s notice.”

And that is key. Call ahead, utilize virtual visits, and pick a good time to go.

”It’s really hard to find a good time to come to the pharmacy,” said Whitney. “It’s really whenever someone gets a chance to anymore.“

”Monday mornings and Friday afternoons are not good times if you want to get in and out. Generally middle of the week is a lot slower time,” said Wheeler.

But some insurance companies may allow a grace period in January to spend money, which is beneficial with the pandemic only adding to the equation.

”On top of COVID shots and everything, it’s just unusually busy, so call us if you have any questions,” said Wheeler. “We do like to have an advance so that way you’re not just sitting here and waiting when you show up.”

And if you are short on time, you may just have to wait.

”I’d rather be waiting in line than have a bunch of sick people waiting in line all together just making things worse than it already is,” said Whitney.

Amid the pandemic, some insurance companies are trying to help out by allowing unused money to roll over into the next year. Check with your benefits administrator at work so you can make sure you understand your FSA benefits, including possible pandemic alterations.

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