Stretch Your Money With a Flex Account

As year-end approaches — people with medical flex spending accounts may be looking for ways to use up any left-over money. As Laurie Johnson reports — now is the time to stock up on last minute medical expenses as well as plan for next year.
Flexible spending accounts work in different ways and apply to different things. But for medical flex accounts, they generally operate on a basic level to cover any medical expenses not covered by your insurance.

Dr. Patrick Carter is Kelsey-Seybold's chief of family medicine. He says many people aren't aware of how many things you can pay for with a flex spending account.

"You can pretty much spend it on anything that would be considered healthcare. So most commonly that's going to be, say, your out-of-pocket expenses for doctor visits. For things like immunizations, dental care, vision care, eyeware glasses, you can pay for your glasses or contact lenses with it."

Even things like contact lens solution and sometimes vitamins qualify on some plans.

Alice Perkins opened a flex spending account about seven years ago. She says it helps her keep track of how much she does spend on medical needs and budget for that each year. 

"I can either look online, or either call and find out how much money I have left.  That's been working out pretty good because I have thirty dollars left.  As far as me using it all up is no problem because I use on myself and my kids."

Carter says the main thing is to get as much as possible out a flex spending account, because the money is tax-free. And that means drawing up a plan for how much money to put in the account for 2009.

"There is a certain use-it-or-lose-it type of aspect to this. If you put a whole bunch in there and you don't wind up not using it, not sure you can get that back.   So you do have to be able to predict what you might be using. Most people, if you sit down and think about it, you probably can predict out of pocket expenses are going to be. And again, just think in the back of your mind 'did my doctor tell me to do something and haven't  done it yet', find out what your out-of-pocket would be and plan to get it done and use your flexible account to pay for that."

And he says think about one-time expenses as well. For instance, Lasik surgery or perhaps a mole that needs to be removed could go into your flex spending account budget.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...