Continuing the Period Conversation

Period products becoming HSA-eligible means more than just big ups for tax savings. The change represents a welcome shift in a historically taboo conversation.
by Julia Rubano June 24, 2020

If you’ve ever encountered a gym, office, or otherwise public(ish) women’s bathroom, locked eyes with their huge offering of tampons or pads, and did not jump at the opportunity to take a handful of each… good for you. We do not have that in common.

I’m honestly not sure that I’ve ever come across a pile of feminine products like those often (though not often enough) offered in various women’s bathrooms and not taken at least a few more than I really needed at that very moment. Which brings me to my next thought: ever considered why you feel the need to stock up?

Well, aside from the obvious, of course, which is that you always want to be prepared in case Aunt Flo comes to town…

The reason I hoard feminine care products like my life depends on it isn’t actually because I want to be super prepped for my time of the month (though that is always a welcome coincidence).

It’s because period products are expensive.

It is by no means a stretch to consider menstrual products a medical necessity. But for as long as I can remember, they haven’t been. That is until recently.

Enter: The CARES Act

Thanks to the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020, menstruators are now one step closer to feeling a little less financially burdened every month.

The CARES Act made a number of important amendments, like the re-inclusion of over-the-counter, or OTC meds to the list of health savings account (HSA) eligible items. But for those who have spent hundreds (thousands?!) of dollars on feminine care products over the years… well, this addition feels special.

You may have read our first post about this a few months back, but for the sake of a very welcome reminder: pads, tampons, liners, cups, sponges, and even period underwear like those made by the popular underwear brand Thinx are officially all HSA-eligible!

What’s the big deal?

Aside from having a conveniently earmarked account for purchases like these, period products being HSA-eligible also means huge tax savings over time (anything purchased using an HSA is done so tax-free).

This change from not HSA-eligible to HSA-eligible comes at an interesting time, too. During a pandemic like that of the coronavirus, menstruators across all socioeconomic backgrounds struggle to access period products. And this is especially true for folks who have come on particularly hard times, often those facing medical bills or unexpected job loss.

Prior to COVID-19, 25 million women were living below the poverty line in the US, already significantly at-risk for lack of access to period products. 

Now consider this: the “tampon tax,” or “pink tax,” which are terms used to describe the extra-taxation of period products as luxury items, makes period products even less affordable for people in need. Sounds… impossible? And yet… here we are.

Not to mention the fact that during a crisis, it becomes particularly difficult for menstruators to manage their period safely. In a report from their Water and Sanitation section in March, Global Citizen explained: “We must break harmful taboos about menstruation, provide education, and promote safe sanitation.” WE couldn’t agree more.

And while I’m happy to say that this change instituted by the CARES Act is a step in the right direction, we have a long way to go.

Another good step? Getting those period products tax-free

As long as you have an HSA-eligible high deductible health plan (HDHP), you’re eligible to sign up for an HSA like that offered by Starship. Then you’ll be able to swipe your Starship Visa Debit card wherever you usually buy your tampons, etc… or submit receipts for reimbursement afterward from within our app.

Now, we’d hoped that by the time we wrote this second piece about HSA-eligible feminine care products, there’d be no more pink tax, making these products even more tax-friendly when purchased with your HSA. Alas, 30 states still add that tampon tax onto menstrual products. But groups like Period Equity and PERIOD are on it, moving the “menstrual movement” forward, and fighting against these luxury numbers by asserting that menstrual products are a medical necessity. And how right they are.

The future of menstruation

As happy as we are to report that these products are HSA-eligible, we understand that not all those who menstruate have HSA-eligible health insurance—or health insurance at all. But that doesn’t stop periods from coming, or from those with them requiring ample access to appropriate products.

If you want to help supply those in need, consider visiting I Support The Girls, a nonprofit organization advocating for women’s personal health. Since March 2020, they’ve “collected and distributed over 2 million products, partnered with large and small businesses to distribute their excess inventory and shipped products around the country to both individuals and organizations.”

We still have a ways to go in ensuring that every woman’s hygiene health needs are met. However, it’s good to see that important conversations like these are happening. And we’ll be here to update you as the conversation evolves, which it will. Period.

Take the first step
in taking care of you.