February 16, 2006
Last year, I signed up for an FSA, or Flexible Spending Account, through work to pay for health expenses. You get to use pretax money, but the catch is that, at the end of the year, if you haven’t spent it, it just evaporates. The minimum amount that you could sign up for was $600, and, while I wasn’t sure I would spend all that, I figured that if I spent even 2/3 of it I was breaking even on the tax. And worse case scenario, I could just spend a bunch on a pair of glasses or a bunch of contacts at the end of the year.
Which is exactly what I ended up doing.
I bought a year’s supply of contacts and a new pair of glasses in December.
The plan also came with the world’s least efficient credit card ever: The FSA Visa card. Usable wherever you want to be, as long as what you were buying was all under the arbitrary penumbra of “health care” expenses, as understood by the IRS. Basically, you can’t buy products that are part of just staying healthy; they have to be medicinal in some way. So, you can buy aspirin but not vitamins. You can pay for a dentist, but you can’t buy toothbrushes or toothpaste. Filled with fear that I’d have to make purchases on multiple cards, I hardly ever used the card unless I was just buying one thing. The only upside was that the money was directly deducted from the FSA, and (sometimes) you didn’t have to even mail in a receipt.
And sometimes you did. In december, I bought a bottle of painkillers and a coldpack, used the card, and lost the receipt. Shortly thereafter, I bought $350 worth of optics and submitted all my receipts. The $15 on the card of course went right to the drugstore. And about $300 of the optics was reimbursed to me (since I had overspent my $600) by a bit.
The emails started coming. I must substantiate my $15 purchase. I responded that I didn’t have it. They pointed out that they were an automatically generated message, and that I must submit my receipt. Eventually, they provided me with a telephone number. Sadly, John, the person I spoke to, was not much more responsive than the emails.
Me: I lost the receipt.
John: So, what’s going to happen is we’ll issue an overcharge, and you either have to get the merchant to substantiate it, or mail us a check for the $15.
Me:But, even without this $15 claim, I’m still owed the money. I have other claims that weren’t filled.
John:Well, the $15 has already gone out, and it shouldn’t have.
Me:Yes, but if it hadn’t, then it would have just gone out for another reason. For the unfilled claims.
John:Those claims weren’t filled because you ran into your account limit.
Me:Which I wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t sent the $15 out.
John:But we already did.
Me:Riiight. But look. I submitted a $15 claim, which you filled, and a $350 claim, which I got only $300 on. So, if you just strike the $15 claim, then you’d owe that $15 to me on the other claim anyway.
John:We can’t pay out the other claim because your account reached its limit.
Me:But if you get $15 back from me, then it won’t have reached its limit. By $15.
John:…I don’t follow you.
Me:Look, I submitted $365 of claims, and you filled $300 of them. If I had only submitted $350 of claims, you’d still have filled $300 of them. So what difference does it make which $300 was filled?
John:But the $15 has already gone out. And it needs to be substantiated or repaid.
Me:If I mail you a check for $15, you’ll just turn around and mail me back a check for $15, on the other claim that hasn’t been fully paid.
John:No. We can’t pay out on that claim because your account reached its limit.
Me:Yes, it did But if I… Look, if you get the $15 back then… Can I speak to your supervisor, please?