When the government tells you that you qualify for a tax deduction, you should take it. Don’t claim more than you deserve, but take everything you’ve got coming. There is no honor in paying more taxes than you really owe. Using your Health Savings Account to pay for over-the-counter supplements is one deduction you want to make sure you don’t miss.
A partial list of qualified medical expenses is provided in IRS Publication 502. There is no such thing as a definitive list of “qualified medical expenses”, though there have been thousands of cases involving the many nuances of what constitutes “medical care” for purposes of section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, virtually any expense that is primarily for the prevention or alleviation of a physical or mental defect or illness can be considered a qualified medical expense. Any qualified medical expense can be paid for tax-free using funds from your Health Savings Account.
Most bathroom cabinets contain a bottle of Advil or aspirin, perhaps some antacids, cold and flu medications, and other over-the-counter medication. People who own Health Savings Accounts can pay for sleep aids, motion sickness pills, throat lozenges, and most other over-the-counter medicines tax-free from their Health Savings Account.
Some people like to take herbal remedies like echinacea and astragalus, which are immune stimulants and come in children’s flavors. Herbal medicines can be paid for from your Health Savings Account only if prescribed by your medical practitioner. Fortunately, HSA legislation puts very few restrictions on the type of medical care you use, giving you, the consumer, the power to decide how to manage your health.
If nutritional supplements have been recommended by your medical practitioner, to treat or prevent a specific condition, then you may be able to use your Health Savings Account to pay for it. (You may not use your Health Savings Account to pay for a vitamin taken for general health.)
As one example, there is a tremendous amount of evidence to support the use of fish oil to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is one of the most important nutritional supplements for most people to take. In 2002, the conservative American Heart Association even issued a scientific statement saying:
“Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in epidemiological and clinical trials to reduce the incidence of CVD. Large-scale epidemiological studies suggest that individuals at risk for CHD benefit from the consumption of plant- and marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids, although the ideal intakes presently are unclear. Evidence from prospective secondary prevention studies suggests that EPA+DHA supplementation ranging from 0.5 to 1.8 g/d (either as fatty fish or supplements) significantly reduces subsequent cardiac and all-cause mortality.”
Some health care providers recommend that you take fish oil supplements to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, so you can pay for it from your Health Savings Account. If you send $5 or $6 a week on this supplement, that’s the equivalent of another $300 that you don’t have to pay income taxes on. Not only are you saving money, but you’re also reducing the chance that you may one day be hitting Medicare up for a bypass operation. It’s win-win for everybody.
To enable you to pay for small expenses like over-the-counter medications directly from your Health Savings Account, many HSA Administrators offer a debit card. You may also reimburse yourself from your account if you paid with cash or a credit card.
You can also choose to reimburse yourself from you Health Savings Account at a later date, giving the account some time to grow, tax-deferred. So save all your medical receipts in a file labeled “un-reimbursed medical expenses”, and whenever you are ready, you can reimburse yourself from your Health Savings Account.