Carla Wardin: Hello, I'm Carla Wardin and I'm the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast. Today, I'm speaking with Sean Hanft, who is communications and content manager at FSAstore.com and HSAstore.com. Hello, how are you doing?
Sean Hanft: Morning, Carla. Thanks so much for having me. I'm doing great.
Carla Wardin: Thank you for being on the podcast. So first, let's get right into it. Can you please tell me about your position?
Sean Hanft: Yeah, so I've been with FSAstore.com for just over five years. I started writing content and copy for the site and writing our learning center articles. We also have a really big eligibility list on our site that took a lot of work to set up.
So, my experience really was kind of in the editorial world, but in recent years I've been moving into more B2B and B2C communications, copywriting. It's essentially still like a startup environment, so we wear a lot of different hats and do a lot of different things to support business.
Carla Wardin: A startup environment is a really fun environment to work in. Like you said, you get to wear a lot of different hats. That's what I think is part of the opportunities that are created by being in a job like that. What's changed since the beginning, since you got there five years ago?
Sean Hanft: Oh boy. Well, I got there five years ago, we were packing orders in a physical office, in a building in New York City. So, marketing and sales and, you know, just... Everyone was in one room. So...
Carla Wardin: Wow. That's definitely different now.
Sean Hanft: Yeah, yeah. Which definitely has changed over the years. So, the company started really as the brainchild of our Chairman of the Board, Jeremy Miller, who worked in Human Resources in the past and noticed that people just really had a lot of trouble figuring out how they would spend their FSA dollars.
There really just wasn't a good resource to help them through it. The claims process is really confusing. When I came on with FSA starting 2015, they were about like five years into their growth cycle, but it was still very much so a startup. And since then we've moved into...we did move into a new office space and we've been actively hiring and bringing on new people to kind of bring the company into the next stage of our growth and we started off with FSA store and then we launched HSA store in 2016.
We also have welldeservedhealth.com which is for wellness rewards dollars. So, I think we've managed to be really flexible and grow in a way that we kind of leverage our experience and our, really our long-time expertise in working with tax-free health care consumers and really continuing to discover that there are a lot of people out there that use these accounts and need a helping hand to really maximize their potential.
Carla Wardin: When you say that people were having trouble figuring out how to spend their funds, how do the sites make that simpler for people?
Sean Hanft: It's funny when I speak to my father about how he used to do FSA— it was all with paper claims in the past. It was all very tactile and you had to be a little bit of a finance long to figure it out, but in recent years, with the introduction of FSA debit cards, that has made paying for eligible products and services really easy.
I mentioned before that we have an eligibility list on our site so that people can look up qualifying products and services and their eligibility status, so you can quickly find out what you can spend your dollars on. We also have a series of tools on our site, like our FSA calculator that allows people to estimate their expected medical spending to figure out the best contribution for the coming year based on what they're expecting to expend on their medical expenses.
And just the sheer fact that everything on our site is eligible. We really try to make it as seamless a process as possible just so there's zero guesswork involved, and people can purchase eligible items with these tax-advantaged funds in the same way they would purchase any other good online.
Carla Wardin: The fact that everything on there is eligible I'm sure makes it really helpful for people. And when they are doing this, when they're going through it, how do they know with the calculator and with the estimation and the items, how do they know how to plan for the year? How do you help them with that?
Sean Hanft: I mean, I think it all comes down to people's personal preference. So for example, with our FSA calculator, we really break it out into, how much are you going to spend on doctors' copays? An estimated amount there. How much are you going to spend on over-the-counter medicines?
Do you have an elective procedure planned, something like LASIK that could obviously account for like a nice chunk of your contribution for the coming year? So, we really try and break it up that way, take their federal and state taxes into account to really give them a good picture.
But I think the other side of it is that FSAs are a bit of a rainy day fund as well, so we always encourage people to overestimate, just in case, if there's an unexpected health issue or if they find themselves having to visit the doctor more than they expected. I think planning for that, it definitely helps people get more out of these accounts.
Carla Wardin: In a year that has been difficult to plan around, what are some of the most popular items in your stores this year?
Sean Hanft: It's definitely not been a typical year. And I think over the course of the year, once the COVID-19 pandemic really changed how we do everything this year, we kind of realized that people would be turning to their FSAs to help at a time like this. So, we saw a really big interest in virus preparedness products, mostly cold and flu items and items that can allow people to better assess their state of health.
So, things like thermometers, fingertip oximeters that measure the oxygen in your blood, those have been very popular. We've even begun selling at-home COVID test kits as well. Those became an eligible expense, or they were allowed under FSA eligibility because they test for a medical condition. Those have also been really popular. Additionally, this year saw some really major changes on the eligibility front.
So, in March, Congress passed the CARES act, which was essentially the COVID relief bill. And in that, they made over-the-counter medications fully eligible. So Advil, Benadryl, all the things that you'd find in your local pharmacy. And for the first time, feminine care products are eligible. So things like tampons, period underwear, menstrual cups, products to manage period pain, those also became eligible this year. And we've seen like a really big response from our customers who have really been wondering over the past two years, why something like that wasn't eligible. So, I think in addition to a big uptick in medical products that people use to protect themselves and manage symptoms of viruses and things like that, we've seen a really big expansion in the utility of the products that are available.
Carla Wardin: That is fantastic, especially since so many of these things are something that a lot of people aren't going to go through a year without buying. So it's great that they already know they're eligible on your long, long list of things. What is going on legislatively on the eligibility of these? Is anything happening there?
Sean Hanft: Well, you know, essentially along the same lines of what we were talking about with virus preparedness, this year we've seen a really big response from our customers in terms of the eligibility of personal protective equipment or PPE. So currently masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, disinfectants, are not covered under FSAs and HSAs.
We think that's something that needs to change, you know, given that there are products eligible in order to prevent a disease, so I can't think of anything more effective at preventing a disease than that. We actually have a petition running on Care2 right now to support a new bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives, H.R.845, that would make personal protective equipment like masks, surface disinfectants, and hand sanitizer FSA and HSA eligible.
The bill itself is a little unique in that the eligibility of those products would be tied to the current state of emergency, so say, if next year, the state of emergency ends in July, those products would still be eligible until December 31st of 2021. So, it's essentially tied to the year in which the state of emergency ends. So, we've seen a really big response on that side. We've already seen 15,000 signatures on our petition in just about a month.
This is something that people really need, and I think a lot of people are reassessing their budgets. The public health crisis has really caused people to take a closer look at their medical budgets and what they're going to earmark for their own care and protection. And that's really at the heart of what an FSA and an HSA is for. So, it only makes sense that these sort of products would be eligible at a time when people need them most and a time when budgets are pressed. So, that's something that we've really been pushing strongly and we hope that, that can come to fruition possibly during this December session when a few bills get through or possibly after the inauguration in January.
Carla Wardin: Obviously, this is going into the next year, aside from COVID-related things, or maybe you can't talk about it without talking about COVID, what other trends do you see in the upcoming year? What's going on with your site? What's going on with your business? What do you see happening? Because it's so easy to predict the future.
Sean Hanft: I mean, if you asked me that question in January, I was probably gonna be like, "2020 is gonna be great."
Carla Wardin: Weren't we all?
Sean Hanft: No, I mean, I think there's...we've definitely seen some changes in how people use their accounts in light of the public health crisis, but there's definitely some consistent performers in terms of the popularity with products that just always seemed to resonate with consumers. Sunscreen is a really big one.
I think that is one that most people who are new to FSAs are kind of surprised that sun care products are eligible. As long as they're broad-spectrum protection and have an SPF of 15 or above, they're eligible. That accounts for sunscreen for all ages, SPF lip balms. So that's a really good way to spend those funds. Baby and mom products. Something that we've been kind of preparing for is the fact that there may be a little bit of a COVID baby boom with everyone being home.
Carla Wardin: Oh, it's coming.
Sean Hanft: So there may be a lot of expecting moms in the next few months here and, you know, FSA is a really good way to help cover the costs of infant and prenatal care for that matter. So, FSAs cover prenatal vitamins breastfeeding supplies, including, you know, storage bags and everything like that, that goes with it.
There's also things like baby movement monitors that you can put above their crib and also just kind of the day-to-day necessities that you may need like, you know, boogie wipes and nasal aspirators. For toddlers, training pants are eligible as well. So there's really a lot of different things there that can help new and expecting moms.
But also I think there's a number of different products that can really kind of support your lifestyle and either help you manage pain or help you enjoy your lifestyle more safely. We have a whole line of outdoor first aid kits from Adventure Medical. We have some that you can dump 'em in a lake and they'll still stay dry. They're great.
Carla Wardin: Great. Necessary.
Sean Hanft: You never know when something happens. Most of the time things go wrong when you least expect them and hiking is definitely one of the worst times for that to happen.
Carla Wardin: That's when you use the kit, definitely.
Sean Hanft: I think we also have a lot of different products that can help people manage pain for workouts and any type of sports injuries be it athletic braces, kinesiology tape, compression socks—there are a number of different products on that end. And finally, I would say optical products. Prescription eyeglasses, contact lenses, the accessories to go with those like contact lens solution and contact lens cases are also covered, and even prescription sunglasses.
If you want a really cool pair of prescription Ray-Bans, your FSA will cover that. Those are definitely some of the ones that are consistently popular year after year. And as we get closer to the 12/31 deadline and people are kind of staring at these massive balances, we really want to encourage them. Like, it's really not that daunting of an issue. There's a lot of stuff out there that you can purchase that's going to be very beneficial for your health.
Carla Wardin: Beneficial and items that you really want and need. Even if you don't need prescription sunglasses, you should probably just get some, is that part of what you're encouraging?
Sean Hanft: Yeah. Like essentially, regular sunglasses would not be covered, but prescription sunglasses would be so...
Carla Wardin: Perfect. Now everybody knows that description for sure. How do you work with ConnectYourCare?
Sean Hanft: I don't know how long we've been with ConnectYourCare but essentially, we've partnered with ConnectYourCare to essentially provide a lot of the services that we have on our family of websites within their benefits portals themselves.
If it's regular articles so that people can read up about trends in FSAs and HSAs, ideas about how they can spend at different stages of their plan years—we really try and provide the support the FSA and HSA users need to really maximize the potential of these accounts, you know, like the aforementioned eligibility list or calculators, and just really providing a ready resource for people, if they ever have any issues.
Carla Wardin: I'm so glad, and I'm so glad you have this extensive list that people can use easily to use their FSA and HSA funds. And I especially wanna thank you for talking with me today.
Sean Hanft: Of course. Thank you so much. Looking forward to the holiday season. I hope you have a happy and healthy one.
Carla Wardin: Thank you so much. Once again, I am talking to Sean Hanft. He is the communications and content manager, and you can find out more at fsastore.com and hsastore.com. And I'm Carla Wardin. And thank you for listening to our podcast.
Carla Wardin is the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, Exclamation of Benefits. Carla brings her broadcasting and technology experience to talk to experts about the latest innovations in the benefits industry. Carla is an author, speaker, and marketing communicator from Michigan, where she and her husband are raising three boys on a dairy farm.