HSAs catching on, but surveys disagree about how well

March 1, 2005

Plans, banks, governments and other healthcare organizations spent part of 2004 testing the waters around health savings accounts (HSAs) to determine their real value in 2005 and coming years. Several consumer surveys offered differing views on HSA popularity.

NATIONAL REPORTS - Plans, banks, governments and other healthcare organizations spent part of 2004 testing the waters around health savings accounts (HSAs) to determine their real value in 2005 and coming years. Several consumer surveys offered differing views on HSA popularity.

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) reported that HSAs were catching on at a substantial rate with almost 440,000 people buying in through September 2004. A Watson Wyatt survey found that 71% of U.S. workers aren't familiar with the HSA concept.

VISA also recently commissioned a study-its interest would be in promoting its debit cards for use with HSAs-and found that 36% of consumers are aware of the HSA concept.

Ideally, HSAs would be attractive to small employers, the self-employed and the uninsured, although, with their long-term view, many argue they're a fit across the board. President Bush has pledged to make HSAs an option for federal employees this year.

"The vast majority of these HSA-eligible products are built upon some variant of a network-based platform, most often a PPO or an HMO," Ignagni says. "These facts clearly demonstrate that network-based HSAs are an attractive option to many consumers, especially those in the individual and small employer market, including many previously uninsured Americans."

According to Joe Martingale, Watson Wyatt's national healthcare strategy leader, it's not surprising that most Americans haven't heard of HSAs, but they are likely to gain momentum this year.

"Healthcare providers may be concerned about payment from consumers spending their own money, but many will have access to the accounts-sometimes through debit cards-to [receive payment] for care. In the long run, it will be in everyone's interest if consumers are more in control of their own health and the healthcare they use. After all, it's that kind of change that will lead to a more efficient healthcare marketplace."