Making masks and PPE items eligible expenses

Personal protective equipment

EDIT: In March 2021, the IRS released Announcement 2021-7, establishing that “personal protective equipment, such as masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, for the primary purpose of preventing the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19 PPE) are treated as amounts paid for medical care under § 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code).” 

What you need to know:

  • COVID-19 PPE items such as masks, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes purchased on 1/1/2020 or later are eligible for reimbursement from Medical Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts. Reimbursement is permitted for Health Reimbursement Accounts that currently allow over-the-counter medical supplies as eligible expenses.
  • Employees will be able to submit a claim online or through the BRiMobile app to have past expenses reimbursed.
  • Within the next few months, merchants will begin to update their systems to identify these newly eligible items. Once that has occurred, employees can use their Beniversal® Prepaid Mastercard® to purchase these items directly.

Shop PPE from the FSA Store or find an eligible merchant in your area with our Store Locator. (As a reminder, shipping and handling fees incurred to obtain eligible items are considered a qualifying expense and may be paid with funds from your pre-tax health account).

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the government has made adjustments to what items can be purchased through a tax-deferred health account. These accounts include health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts and health reimbursement accounts (or arrangements). However, no steps have been taken to make masks and PPE items eligible. Here’s why.

What’s changed so far?

There were two main changes affecting folks enrolled in pre-tax health accounts rolled out under the Trump administration shortly after COVID-19 started.

  • Change 1: Over the counter drugs and medicines were deemed eligible for purchase using funds from a tax-deferred account. This undid a measure previously in place under the ACA that prevented OTC drugs and medicines from being eligible.
  • Change 2: Feminine care products were considered eligible products that could be bought with tax-deferred funds.

Both of these were positive changes that gave consumers more purchasing power and expanded the ability to use their account funds.

However, one area was not addressed under the administration’s updated eligibility standards: masks and PPE.

How does something become eligible?

Good question.

Eligibility is a fickle business. An item (or service, procedure, etc.) has to meet several criteria in order to earn eligibility status.

  1. It must be used to diagnose, cure, treat, mitigate and/or prevent a disease, injury or symptom of a disease. 
  2. It’s primary purpose must be for #1 (this is known as the “but for” clause. In general, it can’t be a dual purpose item).

In short, a dual propose item is something that can be used for medical or health purposes, but it’s primary use isn’t always for medical or health purposes. You can read more about dual purpose items here.

So what’s the hold up?

The main reason masks and PPE items haven’t been granted eligibility status is that they are dual purpose. While it certainly feels like their primary use is to prevent a disease, they have historically not been used mainly for this purpose.

They are not the only potentially eligible item to be given this label. Other dual purpose items you might have encountered:

  • vitamins, minerals and supplements
  • homeopathic remedies
  • massage therapy

The silver lining? Often, dual purpose items can be recognized as eligible items if your medical provider completes a letter of medical necessity (sometimes referred to as a LMN or certificate of medical necessity).

When it comes to masks and PPE, there is a chance they could be given eligibility status. Here’s how.

A possible way forward

There is currently a petition from Benefit Resource’s partners, FSA Store, to make PPE items eligible. The petition is seeking 50,000 signatures and is already 10% of the way to its goal. You can sign here.

What to expect after you sign: You will receive an email confirming your submission has been received. You can manage your notifications at the bottom of the email.

What else can you do?

Even though masks aren’t eligible, you can get creative with making your own if you’re into DIY crafts. While we wish taping together 50 adhesive bandages in the shape of a square with ear loops counted, we don’t think that would meet the CDC’s guidelines for a safe mask. Same goes for wrapping an ace bandage around your head. While it might technically function as a mask (and a costume), it doesn’t quite fit the bill.

So what are some other ideas?

DIY masks

You might have seen recent DIY videos that show how to convert a sock into a mask. While we highly advise using new socks for this activity, if you have compressions socks that you don’t need anymore and that have recently undergone a thorough cleaning, you could definitely use those. Here’s a video on how to have a sock mask in no time.

Helpful tip: Make sure the sock is big enough to create a breathable covering over your nose and mouth.

Find more at-home mask ideas from the CDC.

Sign the petition

Take action to make masks and PPE items eligible for purchase with pre-tax health account funds. Sign today.

petition masks ppe items eligible