Stores, schools, and stadiums are back to full capacity. Employees are making their way back to the office. And almost everyone is sans masks—even in airports. Does this mean that the pandemic is finally over? Not quite. While it seems as though the worst is behind us, COVID-19 is still making the rounds as it mutates into new strains. Not to mention, there are now millions of people around the globe living with lingering COVID-19 symptoms, a puzzling new condition most commonly referred to as long COVID or long haul COVID.
What is long COVID, exactly? To be fancy, the official term for long COVID or post-COVID is post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection. In plain English, it’s long-term symptoms patients might encounter weeks or months after a COVID-19 infection. While most people contract COVID-19 and recover after a few weeks, some people continue to experience symptoms for months or even years after infection — even if they had a mild case. The severity of long COVID varies from one person to the next, with some people experiencing minor yet slightly disruptive symptoms and others going through a severe illness, feeling completely debilitated. Common symptoms of long COVID include the following:
● Brain fog
● Inability to exercise
● Shortness of breath
● Digestive issues
● Blood clots
● Heart symptoms
Why long COVID shouldn’t be ignored
For starters, COVID-19 is such a novel virus, there is still much we don’t understand about long COVID symptoms. Disease control experts are still analyzing data and trying to understand risk factors. It’s not clear why some people are experiencing long COVID while others make a full recovery. And while many people are finding some relief from their various symptoms, there is currently no one-size-fits-all cure.
The impacts of COVID-19 don’t end with those suffering, either. Turns out, according to an article from BenefitsPro, a study from Nomi Health supports that employers are spending a lot more on healthcare per employee due to medical claims related to long COVID. As a technology-driven health care system, Nomi Health sifted through millions of medical claims filed in 2022 to find that employers spent an average of $2,654.67 more per member, which is over 26% higher than they typically spend on a member with diabetes.
Using your HSA to help manage your health with long COVID
If you are navigating your own long COVID or know someone who is, you’re not alone. While estimates of those experiencing post-COVID symptoms can vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports one estimate of those who had COVID-19, about 13% have long COVID symptoms after one month or longer. So, to help you navigate the uncertainties behind this developing illness, we compiled several ways to use your health savings account (HSA) to reduce your financial and mental burden during your long COVID recovery.
1. Cover qualified costs associated with long COVID treatment
It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has created a new set of challenges for patients and doctors. In fact, you may feel like you’re spending more on healthcare than you’re getting out of it as you ping-pong back and forth from one specialist to the next. (Not to mention going through post-traumatic stress disorder and all the medical tests that make you feel like a science experiment.)
The good news is several post-COVID care centers (PCCC) have opened across the US to help provide comprehensive treatment for those affected by COVID-19. If you are interested in meeting with a PCCC specialist, you can search here for care centers near you. Keep in mind that with COVID-19 continuing to resurge across the US, the demand for long COVID clinics will likely increase, so make sure to set up an appointment soon to ensure you can receive the care you need.
Whether you are being treated at a post-COVID care center or with any other physician, you can lean on your HSA to help you cover your qualified medical expenses (QME). Here are several areas that are typically HSA-qualified:
● Post-COVID care centers
● Telehealth and other remote care services
● Doctor visits, medical exams, and hospital procedures
● Speech therapy, physical therapy, and other specialists
● Compression socks, pulse oximeters, blood pressure monitors, thermometers, walking aids, and other personal health items
● Prescription medications and over-the-counter pain relievers (as part of the CARES Act, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, effective March 2020)
● Chiropractic care, acupuncture, or massage therapy related to post-COVID recovery
Note that some of these treatments may require a letter of medical necessity. For a complete list of QMEs visit our expense page.
Remember that your HSA contributions are tax-deductible, meaning every dollar you put in your HSA can reduce your annual taxable income.
2. Reduce risk factors for future COVID-19 infections
If you’re dealing with lingering symptoms after contracting COVID-19, it’s likely that you’re also trying to avoid another viral load by reducing your chances of reinfection. Unfortunately, new variants are still going around, but there are plenty of ways to protect yourself with your HSA funds. As of March 2021, you can use your HSA to cover the cost of the following items when specifically used for the prevention of contracting COVID-19:
● Disposable face masks
● Anti-bacterial hand sanitizer (with a letter written by your doctor)
● Sanitizing wipes that prevent the COVID-19 virus
Important note: While you can use your HSA funds towards at-home COVID tests, make sure you do not double dip into your benefits. Read more about the guidance on avoiding double dipping for COVID tests.
You may want to take advantage of telehealth and other remote care visits in case you need to see a doctor but don’t want to risk going in person. If you get reinfected by COVID-19, your HSA may cover costs for prescribed treatments, too.
Do HSA funds cover COVID vaccines?
To protect yourself from severe COVID symptoms, the CDC recommends a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone ages six months and older. And while you can use your HSA or FSA for the COVID-19 vaccination, you shouldn’t need to. According to the CDC, vaccines purchased with American taxpayer money will be given to citizens at no cost. Although, providers may charge a fee for administering the shot.
3. Take care of your mental health
As with any chronic illness, taking time to care for your mental health is essential to your well-being and overall healing. The effects of long COVID can be frustrating and difficult to manage on your own, and it’s completely okay (and can even be necessary) to seek help.
According to recent COVID-19 research from the National Institutes of Health, “data suggest Data suggest that people are more likely to develop mental illnesses or disorders in the months following infection, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” People who have long COVID symptoms may be frustrated with their inability to perform “normal” tasks or feel pressure to return to their pre-COVID-19 responsibilities when they aren’t feeling ready to.
If you have discouraging feelings like depression, anxiety, or thoughts of helplessness surrounding your post-COVID-19 illness, know that your feelings are valid and there are plenty of resources out there to help you promote a positive mental health outcome. Use your HSA for the following mental wellness resources:
● Therapy. If you see a therapist for your mental health, you may be able to pay your bill with your HSA money. Make sure your counseling is directly related to long COVID. Talk to your doctor about your therapy in case a letter of medical necessity is needed to qualify for HSA distribution.
● Psychiatric care. Most psychiatric-related care may be considered a QME for your HSA. This includes office visits, hospitalization related to psychiatric care, and lodging or meal costs if you need to travel for care.
● Anxiety or depression medication. You can use your HSA to pay for prescriptions that manage mental health conditions.
● Alternative therapy. As mentioned previously, alternative health treatments, such as acupuncture and chiropractic care can be covered for treating wellness related to long COVID. Note that a letter of medical necessity may be necessary.
● Support groups. Some hospitals offer support groups and special centers for individuals with long COVID symptoms. Your healthcare provider can help you find one. Many of these support groups are free — no HSA is needed.
Finding the silver lining in battling severe illness
If you’re an employer, consider ways you can help your employees navigate their mental and physical health by offering additional wellness or physical health incentives, such as in-house counseling services or additional sick leave. The more care you provide to your employees during their long COVID recovery, the more positive and supported they will feel.
From brain fog to severe illness, dealing with long COVID can be difficult, but you’re not in this alone. Feel free to use the resources above and lean on your health benefits, including your HSA, to get the most out of your recovery. By providing ways to save on healthcare costs and giving you tax advantages along the way, your HSA can do a lot to support your well-being. Take care of yourself and see what your HSA can do for you this year.
Questions? For other questions related to COVID-19 and how it impacts your benefits, see our latest updates.
HealthEquity does not provide legal, tax, financial or medical advice. Always consult a professional when making life-changing decisions.
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