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Using a Health Savings Account to Pay for Alternative Medicine
Health Savings Accounts allow you to set up a tax-deductible account to pay for medical expenses not covered by your health insurance. These include costs to cover the deductible and other medical expenses such as dental and glasses. But many don’t realize that HSA funds can be used to pay for almost any type of medical service as long as it’s for the treatment or prevention of a specific health condition.
Because money withdrawn from a health savings account to pay for medical expenses is tax-free, anyone with an HSA can funnel all alternative medical expenses through their HSA and get a tax write-off. This could include biofeedback, naturopathy, Ayurvedic medicine, aromatherapy, magnetic therapy, reflexology and the list goes on.
People who use complementary therapies are often very careful about their health and go to traditional doctors less often. So it doesn’t make sense for them to pay a high premium for a traditional co-pay health insurance plan, especially when their medical treatments aren’t covered anyway. Instead, many choose a low-cost, high-deductible HSA plan.
Alternative Therapies Are Going Mainstream
Many hospitals now offer complementary therapies. The Memorial Sloan-Keating Cancer Center website states that complementary therapies are used to “help relieve stress, reduce pain and anxiety, manage symptoms, and promote a sense of well-being.”
Some group health insurance plans are beginning to cover more co-pays, but there is still very little coverage for these costs in individual or family plans. Those that cover chiropractic limit coverage to 12 – 20 visits per year, and some will cover a limited amount of acupuncture. But very few, if any, cover hypnotherapy, Reiki, iridology or faith healers.
Why Complementary Medicine?
The conventional medicine practiced by most MDs is called allopathic medicine. The philosophy of this system is to treat illness and injury using reactive methods. For example, if you have a fever, you can take aspirin to bring it down, if your cholesterol is high, you can take a statin to lower it, if you have heartburn, you can take an antacid. The thinking is mainly focused on eliminating the symptoms of the disease, and the main methods of treatment are surgery and prescription drugs.
But there are other ways of looking at things. Naturopathic Medicine is based on a belief in the body’s own healing powers, which can be enhanced by the use of certain foods, vitamins, herbs or other “natural” remedies. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on ancient Chinese theories about the balance of yin and yang. Ayurvedic medicine is based on the principles of movement, metabolism and structure.
Part of the growing use of complementary therapies is a reaction to the cost, side effects and philosophy of conventional allopathic medicine. Doctors receive much of their continuing education from the pharmaceutical industry and work in an environment where insurers and patients are both looking for a quick fix. The result is that the average 60-year-old now takes 5 regular medications, yet there is no hope that these medications will ever cure the health problems they are used for. Many consumers see this and instead use other methods to try to find the root of their illness.
What Considers “HSA Protected Expenses”
Qualifying medical expenses are defined in part in IRS Publication 502 and through various federal court decisions. There is no definitive list, but there are really very few restrictions as long as the procedure is for the treatment or prevention of a specific health condition. For example, you could not use your HSA funds to pay for a relaxing massage for your own personal pleasure. But if your doctor recommends you get a massage for specific medical reasons, it’s considered a special expense. Yoga would not normally be considered a special medical expense, but would be recommended as physical therapy after an accident.
Some may wonder why the government would give someone a tax break to use some crazy energy vibration machine to cure their cancer. But that’s as it should be. No one but you should be able to decide what kind of treatment you use for your own ailments. By empowering individuals to manage their health as they see fit, Health Savings Accounts encourage personal responsibility and help loosen the monopoly on health care that conventional medicine has held for the past several decades.
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