Understanding IRS Rules: The Importance of Substantiating Health FSA and DCAP Claims

Understanding IRS Rules: The Importance of Substantiating Health FSA and DCAP Claims


In the realm of cafeteria plans, health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Dependent Care Assistance Programs (DCAPs) play a crucial role. However, the process of claim substantiation often raises questions among administrators. This blog post aims to shed light on the IRS rules regarding claim substantiation for health FSAs and DCAPs.

The Necessity of Claim Substantiation

According to IRS rules, all health FSA and DCAP claims must be substantiated. This substantiation requires information from an independent third party describing the service or product, the date of the service or sale, and the amount of the expense. These requirements are designed to ensure that health FSAs and DCAPs reimburse only legitimate claims.

The Role of Debit Card Programs

IRS rules regarding debit card programs also require that claims be substantiated and reviewed. However, certain categories of expenses are treated as automatically substantiated without any receipts or review beyond the swipe.

The Risk of Substantiation Shortcuts

Administrators might be tempted to engage in substantiation shortcuts such as reviewing only a percentage of claims (i.e., sampling) or automatically reimbursing claims that are below a “de minimis” dollar threshold or that appear to be from medical or dependent care providers. However, these actions could jeopardize the income exclusion that would otherwise apply to reimbursements from these arrangements under the Code. This could result in all reimbursements becoming taxable, not just those approved using the impermissible techniques.

The Consequences of Non-Compliance

If a health FSA or DCAP fails to comply with applicable substantiation requirements, all employees’ elections between taxable and nontaxable benefits under the entire cafeteria plan will result in gross income. A March 2023 IRS Chief Counsel’s office memorandum reconfirms the substantiation requirements for medical and dependent care expenses, as well as the prohibition and consequences of sampling and other substantiation shortcuts.

While the process of claim substantiation might seem daunting, it is a necessary step to ensure the legitimacy of claims under health FSAs and DCAPs. Administrators must adhere to IRS rules and avoid substantiation shortcuts to maintain the tax benefits of these programs.

Source: Thomson Reuters

Understanding IRS Rules: The Importance of Substantiating Health FSA and DCAP Claims

Maximizing Employer HSA Contributions: A Comprehensive Guide for Timing Strategies

In today’s ever-evolving landscape of healthcare benefits, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have become a cornerstone for both employers and employees. With the rising deductibles of High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs), employers are increasingly considering making contributions to HSAs to alleviate the financial burden on their workforce. However, the question arises: when should these contributions be made?

Here, we delve into the intricacies of timing employer HSA contributions to optimize benefits for both employers and employees.

Understanding the Contribution Window

HSA contributions for a taxable year cannot precede the start of that year or extend beyond the due date for the account holder’s federal income tax return for that year. Typically, contributions must fall between January 1 of the contribution year and April 15 of the following calendar year.

Factors Influencing Timing

Several factors come into play when determining the optimal timing for employer HSA contributions:

  1. Prorating Based on Employment: Employers may prorate contributions for employees who haven’t worked the full year, either by making contributions ratably over the year or with prorated year-end contributions.
  2. Risk of Overcontribution: Employers need to be cautious of exceeding the HSA contribution limit, which aggregates employer and employee contributions. Delaying employer contributions until year-end can mitigate this risk.
  3. Employer’s Tax Deduction: For corporate taxpayers, the filing deadline without extensions is March 15. Contributions made by this date enable the company to take the deduction on the corporate tax return.
  4. Nondiscrimination Testing: Employer contributions are subject to cafeteria plan nondiscrimination rules, necessitating careful consideration of timing to avoid issues.
  5. Expense-Timing Considerations: Accelerated contributions may be beneficial for employees facing increased out-of-pocket expenses due to higher deductibles. However, this approach comes with its own set of challenges.

Ensuring Compliance and Administration

Cafeteria plan documents may need amending to accommodate new employer contributions, and timely communication with HSA trustees or custodians is crucial for crediting contributions to the correct year.


Navigating the timing of employer HSA contributions requires a nuanced understanding of regulatory requirements, tax implications, and employee welfare. By strategically evaluating these factors, employers can maximize the benefits of their HSA programs while ensuring compliance and efficient administration.

In conclusion, proactive planning and thoughtful execution are key to leveraging employer HSA contributions effectively, ultimately benefiting both employers and employees alike.

Source: Thomson Reuters

Understanding IRS Rules: The Importance of Substantiating Health FSA and DCAP Claims

IRS Reminder: Not All Health Expenses Qualify for Deductions

In a recent news release, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has reiterated important guidelines regarding the eligibility of health and wellness expenses for deductions and reimbursements under health Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs).

What Qualifies as a Medical Expense? According to the IRS, for an expense to be considered a medical expense under Code § 213, it must be directly related to the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or must affect the structure or function of the body. This definition excludes expenses that are solely for general health benefits.

The Risk of Nonmedical Reimbursements: The IRS warns that if health FSAs or other account-based health plans reimburse nonmedical expenses, it could result in all plan payments, including those for legitimate medical expenses, being included in participants’ taxable income.

Misleading Claims and the Importance of Diagnosis-Specific Documentation: The IRS has expressed concerns about companies misleading individuals by suggesting that a doctor’s note can transform general food and wellness expenses into medical expenses. However, without a clear connection to a diagnosis-specific treatment or activity, these expenses do not qualify as medical expenses.

Case in Point: The Denied Claim Highlighting the issue, the IRS shared an instance where an individual with diabetes was denied reimbursement for healthy food expenses through his health FSA. Despite obtaining a doctor’s note from a company that advertised such services, the claim was rejected because the food did not meet the criteria for a medical expense.

Guidance for Taxpayers: For those seeking clarity on what constitutes a reimbursable medical expense, the IRS points to its FAQs on nutrition, wellness, and general health expenses. These resources clarify that food or beverages purchased for health reasons, such as weight loss, can only be reimbursed if they do not fulfill normal nutritional needs, are used to alleviate or treat an illness, and are substantiated by a physician’s prescription.

Understanding the fine line between general wellness and medical care is crucial for taxpayers and plan administrators. As the IRS emphasizes, only expenses that meet the stringent criteria set forth in the Code will be considered for deductions and reimbursements, ensuring the integrity of health-related financial plans.

Source: Thomson Reuters

Understanding IRS Rules: The Importance of Substantiating Health FSA and DCAP Claims

May Terminating Employees Elect COBRA Coverage for Domestic Partners?

QUESTION: Our company will soon begin offering coverage under our group health plan to employees’ domestic partners. What rights do domestic partners have under COBRA? May terminating employees elect to continue coverage for their domestic partners?

ANSWER: A terminating employee who elects to continue group health plan coverage under COBRA may also elect coverage for a domestic partner who was covered under the plan immediately before the employee’s termination. The domestic partner’s COBRA coverage will be contingent on the employee’s, meaning that the domestic partner will be entitled to coverage until the employee’s COBRA coverage ends (e.g., for failure to pay required premiums or at the end of the maximum coverage period). This is based on the general principle that COBRA coverage must ordinarily be the same coverage that the qualified beneficiary (in this case, the terminating employee) had on the day before a qualifying event. In addition, under general principles, a qualified beneficiary receiving COBRA coverage under a plan that provides domestic partner benefits would have the right to add an otherwise eligible domestic partner to his or her COBRA coverage at open enrollment if active employees are permitted to do the same.

That being said, domestic partners—unlike spouses—do not qualify as qualified beneficiaries under COBRA and, therefore, do not have independent COBRA rights. But if you wish to provide continuation coverage rights like those provided to spouses, you may do so through plan design. Many employers choose to extend “COBRA-like” rights to domestic partners, including the right to make continuation coverage elections independent of the employee (e.g., upon the employee’s termination of employment or upon termination of the domestic partnership). In general, sponsors of self-insured plans may have more flexibility in this area than sponsors of insured plans, who must obtain agreement from their insurers before they can provide fully equivalent continuation coverage rights. As you implement domestic partner coverage, you will want to consult with your insurer or stop-loss carrier, as applicable, and confirm that your plan document and summary plan description explicitly address COBRA and other continuation coverage rights and any notice requirements that will be imposed (such as the requirement to notify the plan within a specified period that a domestic partnership has terminated).

Source: Thomson Reuters

Understanding IRS Rules: The Importance of Substantiating Health FSA and DCAP Claims

Are Any Group Health Plans Exempt From the Federal Mental Health Parity?

QUESTION: We are wondering if our company’s medical plan might qualify for an exemption from the federal mental health parity requirements. What exemptions are available?

ANSWER: The federal mental health parity requirements apply to most employer-sponsored group health plans, but there are a few exceptions. As a reminder, the mental health parity rules under the Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) require parity between medical/surgical benefits and mental health or substance use disorder benefits in the application of annual and lifetime dollar limits, financial requirements (such as deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums), quantitative treatment limitations (such as number of treatments, visits, or days of coverage), and nonquantitative treatment limitations (such as medical management standards). However, some exceptions apply:

  • Small Employer and Small Plan Exemptions. An exception is available for small employers that employed an average of at least two (one in the case of an employer residing in a state that permits small groups to include a single individual) but no more than 50 employees (100 or fewer employees for certain non-federal governmental plans) on business days during the preceding calendar year. When determining whether an employer qualifies as a small employer, certain related employers (including members of a controlled group or an affiliated service group) are treated as one employer. An employer not in existence throughout the preceding calendar year will determine whether it is a small employer based on the average number of employees that it reasonably expects to employ on business days during the current calendar year. There is also an exception for plans with fewer than two participants who were current employees on the first day of the plan year (including retiree-only plans). Note that if an employer provides coverage through a group policy purchased in the small group insurance market, that group policy will be required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services in a manner that complies with the mental health parity requirements.
  • Increased Cost Exemption. An increased cost exemption is available for plans that make changes to comply with the mental health parity rules and incur an increased cost of at least 2% in the first year that the MHPAEA applies to the plan (generally, the first plan year beginning on or after October 3, 2009, unless a later date applies, e.g., because the plan ceased to qualify for an exemption) or at least 1% in any subsequent plan year. Plans that comply with the parity requirements for one full plan year and satisfy the conditions for the increased cost exemption are exempt from the parity requirements for the following plan year (i.e., the exemption lasts for one plan year). After that year ends, the plan must again comply with the parity requirements for a full year before it may (potentially) qualify for the exemption again. Given the complexity of administering coverage with an every-other-year exemption, use of the increased cost exemption may be impractical.
  • Excepted Benefits. The federal mental health parity requirements do not apply to group health plans that provide only excepted benefits (e.g., certain limited-scope dental or vision plans and most health FSAs).

Self-insured non-federal governmental plans could previously opt out of the requirements, but the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 eliminated that right as of December 29, 2022. No new mental health parity opt-out elections may be made on or after that date and opt-out elections expiring on or after June 27, 2023, may not be renewed. 

Source: Thomson Reuters

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