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December 22, 2008
In July, I encouraged people to start using their flexible spending account funds to avoid the predictable year-end 12 Days of Christmas-style spending spree (three flu shots, two pairs of glasses, and a refill of Metamucil). Chances are you didn't pay attention. So, I combed through the IRS list of eligible expenses to find options you may not have considered (Here's the full IRS list). Check with your employer before proceeding, because companies can edit the list of expenses their employees can claim.
Newly eligible this year: pregnancy test kits, annual check-ups, and full-body scans. Other possibilities:
Acupuncture: Hurt your back schlepping gifts around? Try this alternative to the...
...Chiropractor. This is also covered.
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December 18, 2008
Copayments are forever. The debate over healthcare affordability often focuses on monthly premiums, but it's the relentless, never-ending drain from copayments and other expenses not covered by health insurance that often gets people into trouble. And these days, people are financially stretched to the point where it doesn't take much to cause hardship: Expenses exceeding just 2.5 percent of family income can do it, according to a study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change. At that level, a third of families reported having problems covering their medical bills, more than twice as many as had trouble when their bills were below 2.5 percent of family income.
We're not talking about huge sums of money. According to the survey of 14,500 people under age 65, out-of-pocket medical expenses of just $500 or less were enough to cause 40 percent difficulties, while nearly two thirds of those who said they struggled had less than $1,000 in expenses. "As healthcare costs continue to rise rapidly amid a sharp economic downturn, out-of-pocket medical expenses are straining family budgets, leaving even insured families with little cushion to weather unexpected illnesses or injuries," Peter Cunningham, an HSC senior fellow, said in a release announcing the study, which he coauthored.