Health Care Flexible Savings Accounts- New Changes coming in 2011

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If you’re like me, you and/or your spouse have a flex spending account or health care spending account that you put money into, biweekly or monthly. These are great tools if you have anticipated expenses for the upcoming calendar year. For example, if you know you are going to have surgery or a large medical expense like new glasses, new contacts, etc., health care spending accounts or flexible spending accounts are a great way to save a little money. Here’s how it works: Because the money goes into these accounts pre-tax, the contribution is taken from your salary BEFORE it is taxed. Then, when it is paid out to you for eligible expenses, you are not taxed on this money either. It is a great tax shelter but… while that sounds great, read on because putting in too much can come back and bite you a bit as well.

For this calendar year, I overestimated a bit and put in WAY too much. I don’t know whether it was that we have less expenses or just that my new insurance was that much cheaper, but I continued with last calendar year’s amount and it turned out to be too much so as we embark on 2011, I am looking to spend well over $800 before March 15, 2011. Most flex spending accounts give you until March 15, 2011 to incur eligible expenses and they have to be submitted to the company running your Flexible Spending Account by a set deadline. Check with your company because it can be crucial to getting your hard-earned money back!

So how does all this work? Some companies offer a card- so it tracks what you pay in and tracks what you spend too. You get a debit card and you just charge your eligible expenses on that all year long. Many high deductible plans work that way as well. However, MOST companies who offer the flexible spending account require manual enrollment, and your health insurance numbers for paperless reimbursement AND a bank account for automatic deposits. Their websites are chalk full of information and you can track your spending/reimbursements on-line. You have to physically submit a receipt for over-the-counter and eligible items (read on- some OTCs are going away in January 2011 from automatic reimbursement so stock-up now) and then they review the items and pay you back. For example, for costs incurred on eyeglasses, you submit the receipt and you are paid back. For 2010, if you bought Tums, Advil, and cough drops, you have to remember to save the receipt and you get paid back but you have to submit the receipts along with your claim form. It’s a little tedious for working parents and most people in general to collect receipts, copy them, and then send them in manually (fax or postal mail) with their claim form which also has to have a lot of information. Frankly, sometimes it’s a nightmare to submit these! As far as prescriptions, dental and medical visits, if you use your insurance card, then there is generally a paperless reimbursement option so the money automatically appears in your checking or savings account. You have to set that up on-line or when you enroll. So, all in all, that is a painless process if the paperless reimbursement process is working as it should be.

Big change starting January 2011 that you need to be aware of: No more OTC meds like Advil© or its generic equivalent, Tylenol© or its generic equivalent, Tums©, Prilosec, etc., etc., will no longer be reimbursed without a doctor’s note. That’s right folks! If you have a headache and buy Ibuprofen, don’t bother saving the receipt unless accompanying that receipt you also have a doctor’s Rx for that headache medicine. Nice! So, if you are estimating what to put in this year, I would make sure you take out all those OTCs (I approximate AVGERAGE households average about $200 a year) unless you can get a doctor’s note for them. This is a hugechange and many people are re-calculating their costs for the 2011 Calendar Year. Many other things will still continue to require what is called a LETTER OF MEDICAL NECESSITY. These are a hassle too and I have been through a lot to get reimbursements for things my doctor prescribed. For example, if you have a doctor’s note to say buy a humidifier for your allergies, you will sometimes get hassled from the flexible spending account company for buying a more expensive model so you will then need to do a cost comparison and tell them why you bought this humidifier versus some $10.00 model. I kid you not.

So, in sum, there are pros and cons to a little tax savings. While this is a good program and I think people should put in what their estimated costs would be, I would urge you to calculate your spending for this past year and conservatively estimate next year’s because if you put in too much like I did this year, you are at risk for just outright losing that money and then you blow any tax advantage you may have received by putting the money in, in the first place.

With Flex and Health Spending Accounts like all financial accounts, accuracy & diligence is key- I think they are good if you are willing to put in the time to keep great records of your receipts, do the work of sending them in, and also are okay with running around collecting medical necessity letters and OTC Prescription letter if needed. Then you may make out okay. But, if you simply do not want to deal with it, only put in what your estimated true medical/dental/vision costs are for the year – that way you do not have a balance and you definitely do not want to lose the money. Happy Estimating!

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Review of Thai Basil – Denver, Colorado

I had the misfortune of craving Thai food on Sunday – a day when my favorite Thai restaurant in all of Denver and Colorado Springs was closed — WILD GINGER in Littleton, Colorado.  So, I did the next best thing.  Plugged in Thai in my search engine on google maps and Thai Basil along with its neighbor Swing Thai on Alameda in Denver popped up.  I decided to try a new place since I frequent Swing Thai in the Highlands. 

From the beginning… the waitress was … well, less than friendly.  The Thai veggie egg rolls, another review stated on yelp, were nothing but rice noodle and cabbage- that’s true but I was hungry.   The entrees are a whole ‘nother story.  SPICY!  Their sauces are pre-made so don’t expect a mild Thai dish.  Sure, maybe I shouldn’t expect that from a Thai restaurant but I have been to well over twenty Thai/Asian Fusion restaurants in the Denver area and I have to say, I have never had a problem with getting a dish the way I want it.  I did at Thai Basil.  If you have even a mild reflux or other condition, watch out!  Order wisely!

The prices are comparable but I think the lure to this place is its prices on beer/wine — they are $0.50 for beer and $2.00 for wines.  The CATCH:  5-9pm and you have to buy a dinner entree.  I had the panang and it was not as flavorful as other panangs I have had elsewhere but their Asian Chinese dishes in regular soy/Chinese schezuan looked not so spicy- of course, I did not try them so I cannot vouch for it.  I will probably not return for the food but like I said, their drink specials I am sure are tempting for those who wish to drink a bit but not pay the big price tag.

The biggest disappointment of the night – I had a ton of left over curry but no rice to go with it so I asked for more rice.  At most other places, they provide this in your to-go bag without charging extra.  Thai Basil was ready to charge me $2.00 for it.  I was a little disappointed and surprised by this as I just wanted enough to eat the next day with my left over panang.  In any case, maybe if we had a different server… or maybe if I had just gone to Swing Thai next door.  In any case, after three could’ve, would’ve, should’ves,  GetCluedIn gives Thai Basil a BIG Question Mark.  Out of all the Thai places in the Denver metro area, I do not recommend Thai Basil.  If you want to go for drinks, then this may be the place for you but if you are looking spectacular Thai food and/or great service, then this is not the place for you.

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And the winner is….

Well I have a new blog name. Coming soon: a link to my new blog and more postings.

And the winner of the lottery for all those who provided suggestions: Sara!!!
I’ll be sending out Starbucks your way soon. Yum! Thanks for all your suggestions and voting for my new blog name.

Exciting things to come soon….

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Vote, Vote, Vote!

It’s time to VOTE!  I received a bunch of suggestions, and came up with a few of my own.  For the folks who sent in suggestions, I just plan on doing a random drawing for the Starbucks gift card so you will be notified soon and your first name posted if you have won.  I will then need your address.  Thanks for all your help everyone!

I need one more bit of support— please, please vote for one of the blogs listed below.  Voting buttons are  above but here are the FINAL TWO:

(1)  Get Clued in! Formerly Clueless in Colorado, a working mom’s consumer blog & perspectives
(2) Clueless in Colorado is … “Going Vogue!” Same great consumer/mommy blog with a more “vogue” look.

Please vote for one of the names above:  Either GET CLUED IN!  Or GOING VOGUE – hurry!  voting ends on Friday, November 19, 2010.
Again, thanks for all your help and stay tuned for more exciting changes coming next weekend!

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A Cartoon to Start the Weekend

photo courtesy of Parade Magazine- Cartoon Parade (c)
All copyright rights reserved by Cartoon Parade & Parade Magazine

I thought this was hilarious… blogging is becoming all the craze.  It seems like everyone has a blog these days (case in point- yours truly)… it’s gotten to the point where this cartoon is actually true:  bloggers are blogging about blogs.  Have a great weekend! 
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