IRS Ruling Protects HSAs During Coronavirus Scare

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Doctor with patient
Stuart Jenner /

Wondering if your high-deductible health plan will cover any care related to the new coronavirus? The IRS has some reassuring news.

Health insurance that qualifies as a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) can pay for testing and treatment related to COVID-19 without jeopardizing a plan’s status as an HDHP, the federal agency announced Wednesday.

This is especially good news for anyone who contributes to a health savings account, or HSA. You must have an HDHP to be eligible to contribute to an HSA. So, if the status of your HDHP had changed, it theoretically could have jeopardized your ability to save money in an HSA.

The IRS also reiterated Wednesday that vaccination costs of any kind still count as preventive care — and, as a result, an HDHP can pay for them without jeopardizing its status. This is not a change from the past.

The IRS was careful to point out, though, that the clarification the agency issued Wednesday only applies to very specific types of health plans:

“Today’s notice applies only to HSA-eligible HDHPs. Employees and other taxpayers in any other type of health plan with specific questions about their own plan and what it covers should contact their plan.”

How to protect yourself from the coronavirus

As we have noted several times, COVID-19 is scary — and dangerous. But the risk is not the same for everyone.

In general, the younger you are, the less likely you are to become seriously ill if you contract the new coronavirus. Experts repeatedly have said that people over the age of 60 — and those with specific pre-existing conditions — are in the greatest danger of serious, or even fatal, complications related to COVID-19.

If you fall into that age group, it’s wise to take precautions. We outlined several in “Over 60? Experts Urge These Lifestyle Changes to Avoid the Coronavirus.”

However, there is no reason to panic. We’ve been here before — and probably not as long ago as you think.

During the 2017-2018 flu season, an estimated 61,000 Americans died as a result of influenza. Overall that season, 45 million people were infected with the flu, and more than 800,000 were hospitalized.

In February 2018, Bloomberg reported that up to 4,000 Americans a week were dying from the flu:

“The amount of influenza ravaging the U.S. this year rivals levels normally seen when an altogether new virus emerges, decimating a vulnerable population that hasn’t had a chance to develop any defenses.”

So, the danger we face now — while certainly greater than that posed by a typical flu bug — might not be quite as novel as you think.

By most measures, COVID-19 is more dangerous than the flu, so taking extra precautions is prudent.

The CDC says the coronavirus is thought to be spread mainly person-to-person, between those in close contact (within about 6 feet) via the respiratory droplets sprayed when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The CDC says the best ways to remain healthy and to protect those around you are to:

  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water. Hand sanitizer with more than 60% alcohol can be used if no soap is available.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people, and put distance between yourself and others if the coronavirus is spreading in your community.
  • If you are sick, wear a facemask, stay at home and cover coughs and sneezes. If you are not sick, you do not need to wear a face mask, unless you are caring for someone sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

How are you trying to avoid the new coronavirus? Share your tips in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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