January 20 2011

30 Ideas for 30 Days: Day 11

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

According to America’s Health Insurance Plans (the trade association which represents health insurance companies), 10 million Americans were covered by a combination of health savings accounts (HSAs) used with high-deductible health insurance plans in 2010.

Income and payroll taxes take a sizeable chunk out of your paycheck off the top. One of the nice things about HSAs was that money could accumulate in the accounts – and be spent on qualified health benefits – without being subject to these taxes. In effect, your money could go farther, because you didn’t have to cut the feds a portion of your money!

Unfortunately, last year’s health care reform bill added a number of new restrictions on HSAs. Previously, HSA money could be used on over-the-counter prescriptions – but as of January 1, 2011, this is no longer the case. Now, to use your HSA on OTC medicine, you need a doctor’s prescription – so you’ll be using after-tax dollars.

Suggestion #11: Rescind restrictions on health savings accounts.

The whole health care reform bill was about $940 billion - including all of the funny accounting that took place. The Congressional Research Service estimated that over 10 years, this provision would raise $5 billion over ten years. Sure, it’s still a lot of money – but in the scheme of things, it’s a paltry sum relative to the overall cost of the bill.

Money aside, however, this move has made HSAs a little bit less appealing to consumers. Plans like HSAs that encourage patients to make conscientious choices about their care are discouraged. Any guesses on the effect this will have on the long-term costs of health care?

To start reining in health care costs, the government should encourage consumers to only use the services they truly need – and in a cost-effective manner. Rescinding the petty regulations on HSAs would send Americans a message that responsibility is a virtue – not a vice.

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