When talking about the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities (CARES) Act recently passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, most people associate it with a relief check coming from the U.S. Treasury Department.
Of course, this is welcome news for the millions of people who have suddenly had their work hours cut or lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis. However, the CARES Act also quietly changed a much-debated health expense issue — and it’s a big deal.
In addition to the economic stimulus it will provide the nation, the CARES Act also now allows people to use their health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) money to pay for menstrual products such as pads, tampons, panty liners, cups and more.
Many companies offer employees an FSA or an HSA as a way to put money into an account with money from their paycheck before taxes are taken out by the government. These pre-tax dollars can be spent on qualified medical expenses, as defined by the federal government.
Approved expenses have included a wide variety of items, like over-the-counter medications and products such as first aid supplies, condoms, breast pumps, pregnancy tests, dentures, chiropractic treatment and more. Yet, for years, menstrual products were not included on that list, even though they are a health necessity for millions of people.
Now, menstrual products have finally been re-classified as “medical expenses,” which means they can be purchased in stores with FSA or HSA debit cards. This move should help to make period products more financially accessible to millions of people.
A similar bill including menstrual products as FSA- and HSA-eligible expenses was previously passed in 2018 by the U.S. House of Representatives. At the time, Representative Grace Meng of New York, who authored and co-sponsored the bill, celebrated the win as a step toward changing the “wrongheaded policy” of not allowing menstrual products to be purchased with FSA or HSA funds.
“The passage of my legislation is a major leap forward in our fight for menstrual equality,” Representative Meng said in a press release at the time.
“It brings us another step closer towards making menstrual hygiene products more accessible and affordable to women. Menstrual hygiene products are essential and necessary for women, and deserve to be items that are permitted to be purchased with health flexible spending account funds.”
However, the bill never reached the U.S. Senate for a vote.
It is not clear if these changes in menstrual product eligibility will remain a permanent fixture in tax law. However, for the time being, it is good news for anyone looking to use their pre-tax dollars on these medical necessities.