Inform your patients about HSAs

A new AMA brochure, "Health Savings Accounts at a Glance," is useful for physician waiting rooms.

Posted Dec. 20, 2004.

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The BlueCross BlueShield Assn.'s recent announcement that its member plans will offer PPO products tied to tax-free health savings accounts is welcome news to those who support HSAs as one way to give individuals choice in health care.

The American Medical Association's long-term advocacy efforts bore fruit in 2004 when the federal government made health savings accounts permanent and removed most of the restrictions associated with them, as part of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act. HSAs were slow to catch on in 2004, but early indications are that 2005 just might be their year.

Creating health savings accounts was an important component of President Bush's efforts to expand consumer-driven health care approaches in his first term and he has said that he will try to expand on that idea in his second term.

Bush has proposed making premiums for the high-deductible health plans that are combined with HSAs tax-deductible as well, and has a tax credit plan for low-income individuals, as well as small business owners and their employees.

Experts also predict that 90% of insurers are likely to offer HSAs by 2006 and early indications are that Humana Inc., Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealth Group will be joining the Blues in rolling out products in 2005 or 2006.

One key to the success of HSAs will be making sure that patients are knowledgeable and, in turn, comfortable about moving away from the health coverage to which they've grown accustomed.

That's where a new AMA brochure, "Health Savings Accounts at a Glance," will come in particularly handy.

The brochure is a concise primer on HSAs. It explains how they work, what patients should do if they want one and their employer doesn't offer one, and gives sources of additional information. It also distills numerous government regulations on HSAs into an easily readable format.

The brochure starts out by answering what is likely to be the most pressing question for many patients: What exactly is a health savings account? Then, using a question-and-answer format, it addresses the particulars of the accounts including deductibles, eligibility and whether HSAs are good for people with chronic conditions.

When patients have health savings accounts, they -- not their health plans -- choose how to spend their health care dollars. And they also have an incentive to spend those dollars in an effective, cost-conscious manner because the money is truly their own.

"Health Savings Accounts at a Glance," is the perfect way to interest patients in the concept. The guide, which can be downloaded from the AMA Web site, would make a useful addition to the waiting room. Patients could pick it up, read through it and begin contemplating whether an HSA would be right for them.

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External links

AMA brochure, "Health Savings Accounts at a Glance," in pdf (link)

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