Copyright 2006 Lisa Ip
If you've been following the news lately, you've probably heard about the contentious issue of Health Savings Accounts, introduced by the Bush administration in 2003 through the Medicare Modernization Act. At that time the concept generated little buzz - only recently has the debate heated up between critics and supporters of the initiative.
A Health Savings Account offers people a second choice when it comes to signing up for health insurance. It's not a replacement for health insurance, but instead, combines aspects of personal savings with the complete coverage offered by a health insurance plan. Many defenders of HSAs believe it offers the best of both worlds so that patients can have more control over their own healthcare needs and save money in the process.
But what exactly does a Health Savings Account entail? Basically, a Health Savings Account is a savings account (set aside for the purpose of paying future medical costs) in conjunction with a high-deductible health insurance policy. If your employer or insurance company offers HSAs, you are given the option to deposit money into the savings account, up to a set amount. The deposit remains tax-free, even when you withdraw, and gains interest over time - just like a traditional savings account. The difference, of course, is that the money must be used to cover medical expenses you incur up to the deductible amount. So if you need to buy prescription eyeglasses, visit the doctor, or take an eye exam, you would withdraw funds from the HSA in order to pay those bills. HSAs can be used to pay for a wide range of healthcare expenses, not traditionally covered by health insurance.
The good news is that once you reach the deductible amount, your insurance coverage kicks in and you can use that to pay any additional medical bills you are responsible for during the rest of the year. Another positive aspect of a Health Savings Account is the fact that with a high-deductible insurance plan comes low monthly premiums. If you have little to no healthcare costs during the year, you will save a lot of money on premiums alone. At the same time, your savings account will gain interest and roll over to the next year. After several years, even if you need to make withdrawals to pay for certain medical expenses, you should have a significant amount of money set aside for a rainy day.
In addition, once you turn 65, you can withdraw any leftover funds to use for your retirement - and the balance remains tax-free. You can use the money for medical expenses, of course, or for any other expenses you have during your retirement years.
Opponents of HSAs argue that only the healthy and wealthy can afford to take advantage of the opportunities Health Savings Accounts offer to the public, while proponents of the plan believe this type of health insurance has the potential to give the average person more power to make informed healthcare choices. Only time will tell whether or not Health Savings Accounts have the potential to revolutionize healthcare in America.