You have severe allergies, and the dry air inside your house makes things even worse. Your doctor recommended a humidifier. She said it might count as a qualified health related expense, whatever that means. It means that, under certain circumstances, a humidifier is a qualified Flexible Spending Account, or FSA, expense. You may be able to buy one at little or no expense.
Not all insurance plans have a flexible spending account, but if yours does, you should have been able to sign up for one during open enrollment. Insurance plans can vary, so check to see if humidifiers are considered a qualified medical expense in yours. If so, there should be no problem using the FSA to get a personal humidifier.
Some companies kick in funds for employee FSAs, but most don't. The fund belongs to your employer, but the money is yours to spend -- with a couple of catches. First, you must use it to pay for qualified medical expenses not covered by your insurance plan. That includes deductibles, co-pays, and, if necessary, machines like a humidifier. You contribute to an FSA with pre-tax wages. It doesn't count as income on your federal or state income tax returns.
FSA versus HSA
Don't confuse a FSA with a Health Savings Account. The two serve similar purposes, but the rules are different. You can only contribute to an HSA if you have an insurance plan with a high deducible, which isn't common with employer-provided health plans. If your employer doesn't offer a HSA, you can open one through a financial institution. FSAs are only offered by employers. Another major difference is you can keep the money you don't spend in an HSA from year to year. Your employer gets to keep any money left in an FSA at the end of the year.
Many humidifiers use warm mist that can cause burns if you get too close. Cool mist humidifiers are just as effective and safer, especially if you have kids. They run with distilled water, not tap water. Change the water and filters regularly to prevent mold and other nasty growths from accumulating inside the humidifier and eventually getting into the air. Humidifiers must be cleaned and the tank rinsed every three days. That will prevent cleaning chemicals from becoming airborne in the mist. Don't run your humidifier constantly; it can make the air too moist, which is just as harmful as dry air.
- MayoClinic.com: Humidifiers -- Air Moisture Eases Skin, Breathing Symptoms
- Medline Plus: Humidifiers and Health
- WageWorks: FSA Eligible Expenses
- WageWorks: FSA Eligible Expenses -- Humidifier
- Health Equity: Flexible Spending Account (FSA)–Frequently Asked Questions
- CalCPA Education Foundation: FSA vs. HSA -- Making Sense of the Choices
Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.