Apparently, this week my blog is not the only thing having some issues. I feel a cold coming on.
It seems to happen every holiday. I don't know if it's just that I finally let down a little or that the dark chocolate Christmas candy isn't quite the medical miracle that I'd hoped for. Maybe I just need to increase the "dosage."
Whatever, I'm a tad achy and a bit sniffly and sneezy (not to mention occasionally Sleepy, Dopey and Grumpy). I'm hoping that replacing the candy with some extra orange juice and Coricidin for a couple of days will do the trick and stave off a full-blown head cold.
Even if you're not feeling under the weather, now might be a good time to stock up on cold treatments and other over-the-counter (OTC) medications, especially if you have a flexible spending account (FSA).
This company-provided benefit allows you to put money into a special account before your withholding taxes are computed. That means a lower wage base upon which you owe Uncle Sam. Then when you have to fork over medical co-pays or deductibles, you'll be reimbursed from your FSA funds.
The one big drawback of these accounts is that you have to use or lose the money. Although the IRS changed the rules a couple of years ago to allow employers to extend the FSA deadline for up to 10 weeks -- that's around mid-March for plans that operate on a calendar annual basis -- it's just an option.
Your company doesn't have to give you the extra time and most still have a Dec. 31 deadline.
It that's the case for your FSA, here are some ways to use up your money in the next few days.
Clean out your medicine cabinet.
Originally, FSA payouts were reserved only for doctor visits and prescriptions. But then many medical 'scripts shifted to grocery and drugstore shelves and in September 2003, the IRS ruled that OTC medicines qualified for FSA reimbursement.
So toss expired items and restock with new OTC products such as cold medications, aspirin, decongestants, antihistamines and cough syrup. Consider store brand (aka private label) items to stretch your FSA dollars a bit further.
Don't forget the antacids that you'll need after all your overindulging. And a first aid kit could come in handy to treat paper cuts from ripping open presents.
Check with your plan administrator for a full list of eligible OTC purchases, as not all plans cover the same products.
Make vision and dental appointments.
These ancillary medical services usually are not covered, or at least not fully, by many employer-provided insurance plans. So using FSA money is a good way to pay for them.
Laser eye surgery is a common FSA option. While it's probably too late this year to schedule Lasik, mark your 2008 calendar and then try your regular optometrist or dentist. You still might be able to squeeze in a visit at those offices by Dec. 31.
Also consider getting your annual physical now to use up your FSA money.
Reduce holiday-induced stress.
Seasonal hustle, bustle, family and travel are sure-fire tension triggers. If you're near (or past) your breaking point, your FSA can help.
No, unfortunately you can't use the funds to cover a day spa visit. But a trip to a chiropractor or acupuncturist could help take some of the edge off and these services generally are FSA reimbursable.
Now I'm going to have one more chocolate-covered toffee, chase it with o.j. and Zicam and take a nap!
Prepaid healthcare card: If you know someone who doesn't have an FSA, or insurance for that matter, you might want to consider giving them a prepaid health card.
The Healthcare Visa can be used to help pay for health expenses, products and wellness-related services -- even gym memberships and elective procedures -- as long as the provider accepts Visa debit cards.
You can purchase one online at Givewell.com or, if you prefer, by phone at 1-877-850-3774. The minimum card amount is $25; the maximum is $5,000.
There's a $4.95 per card charge, plus shipping and handling. And, like many prepaid cards, after a few months additional charges kick in. Nine months after the purchase date, the Healthcare Visa will assess a monthly maintenance fee of $1.50.
But if you or your gift recipient uses it before then, it could be a welcome, and wellness covering, piece of plastic.