Thursday, March 4, 2010

Head to the gym without your FSA

Wellness is often mentioned during health care reform discussions. We’ve talked about it on this blog (here and here), and President Obama has included it in his health care reform proposal. Title IV of the proposal states, “If we want to truly reform health care to benefit American families, we need to transition from a system focused primarily on treating the sick to one that helps keep people well throughout their lives.”

During these discussions, flexible spending accounts (FSA) also have been mentioned. I’ve written about them (here and here), and the President’s plan mentions them, too. His health care proposal would put a $2,500 limit on the amount that can be contributed to an FSA (I know, bummer, but that’s a topic for another day).

So, now let’s put together the ideas of wellness and FSAs. The list of medical and dental expenses that can be reimbursed through an FSA is fairly broad. Acupunture, contact lenses, hearing aids, oxygen, wheelchairs – these (among others) are all reimbursable medical expenses.

But when you think about wellness, what’s missing from the list? That’s right – gym or health club membership dues. As the IRS notes, “You cannot include in medical expenses health club dues or amounts paid to improve one’s general health or to relieve physical or mental discomfort not related to a particular medical condition.”

Um . . . why not? I thought we wanted to focus on keeping people well. Working out contributes to keeping people well by preventing chronic conditions and controlling weight, among other benefits.

On the other hand, you can get reimbursed for expenses related to weight-loss programs (but again, membership dues are not medical expenses even within such programs). If a person had a reimbursed gym membership (used on a regular basis, of course) maybe he or she wouldn’t have to join a weight-loss program.

I know I’m not the only one who finds this ironic. Yet as far as I know, no health care reform proposal on the table addresses this issue.

Is this conundrum a valid reason not to join a gym or exercise? Of course not! So quit reading this and go work out. Just leave your FSA at home.


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