Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Expenses Related to Nutrition, Wellness, and General Health (Mar. 17, 2023); IRS News Release IR-2023-47 (Mar. 17, 2023)
The IRS has issued FAQs that explain when certain costs related to nutrition, wellness, and general health are medical expenses under Code § 213 that may be paid or reimbursed under a health FSA, HSA, or HRA. As background, Code § 213 defines medical care as amounts paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting a structure or function of the body. The FAQs explain that medical expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental disability or illness, and do not include expenses that are merely beneficial to general health.
The FAQs confirm that the costs of dental, eye, and physical exams are medical expenses that can be paid or reimbursed by a health FSA, HSA, or HRA because these exams diagnose whether a disease or illness is present. The costs of smoking cessation programs and programs that treat drug-related substance use or alcohol use disorders are also medical expenses because they treat a disease. For the cost of therapy to be a medical expense, the therapy must treat a disease—thus, amounts paid for therapy to treat a diagnosed mental illness are medical expenses, while amounts paid for marital counseling are not. Likewise, the costs of nutritional counseling and weight-loss programs are medical expenses only if the counseling or program treats a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (e.g., obesity or diabetes); otherwise, these costs are not medical expenses. The cost of a gym membership is a medical expense only if the membership was purchased for the sole purpose of affecting a structure or function of the body (e.g., a prescribed plan for physical therapy to treat an injury) or treating a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (e.g., obesity or heart disease). However, the cost of exercise for the improvement of general health is not a medical expense, even if recommended by a doctor.
The FAQs also explain the circumstances under which the cost of food or beverages purchased for weight loss or other health reasons will qualify as medical expenses, and that the cost of non-prescription drugs can be paid or reimbursed by a health FSA, HSA, or HRA even though these items (except for insulin) are not deductible under Code § 213. The FAQs confirm that the cost of nutritional supplements is not a medical expense unless the supplements are recommended by a medical practitioner as treatment for a specific medical condition diagnosed by a physician.
EBIA Comment: These FAQs do not break new ground or include any surprises. However, they may be helpful to those on the “front lines” of cafeteria plan administration, who are sometimes asked to explain the reasons for plan operating rules and decisions. They also remind administrators of the importance of obtaining adequate and appropriate substantiation before reimbursing claims and highlight the challenges involved with certain expenses. For more information, see EBIA’s Cafeteria Plans manual at Sections XX.D (“Expenses Reimbursed Must Be for Medical Care”), XX.L (“Health FSA Expenses That Are Difficult to Administer”), and XX.M (“Table of Common Expenses, Showing Whether They Are for ‘Medical Care’”). See also EBIA’s Consumer-Driven Health Care manual at Sections XV.C (“What Is an HSA-Qualified Medical Expense?”) and XXIV.B (“HRAs May Reimburse Only Code § 213(d) Expenses”).
Contributing Editors: EBIA Staff.