For nearly 30 years, employees who were eligible to use the flexible spending accounts had to forfeit any unspent money at the end of the year.
A new rule will now permit employers to let plan participants roll over up to $500, the Treasury Department said Thursday.
Employers who sponsor the plans are not required to offer the option.
Some plan sponsors might be eligible to start letting workers carry over the money at the end of this year, the Treasury said in the announcement. Others might have to wait until next year.
The accounts allow employees to contribute up to $2,500 a year directly from their pay, before taxes are deducted. The accounts can then be used to pay certain medical expenses not covered by insurance, including co-pays.
The Treasury says an estimated 14 million people use the accounts.
Some plans currently provide workers with a grace period at the start of the year to spend the money in the accounts, of up to 21/2 months. The new rule says plans can offer either a grace period or the $500 rollover, but they cannot offer both.
“Today’s announcement is a step forward for hardworking Americans who wisely plan for health care expenses for the coming year,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement.
Employees generally decide how much to set aside in the accounts before the start of the year, but it can be difficult to estimate medical expenses a year in advance, discouraging some people from taking advantage of the accounts.
“Allowing Americans who have one of these accounts to roll $500 over to the following year just makes sense and will give people more help to pay for out-of-pocket health care costs,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “I’d like to see more done to expand these critical accounts that empower the individual to make informed health care decisions using money they saved.”