Push to expand the reach of health savings plans should help consumers pay for out-of-pocket medical laboratory services and other healthcare expenses
High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) continue to impact hospitals, clinical laboratories, and anatomic pathology groups due to the strain they put on healthcare consumers who struggle to pay their medical bills. Even worse, studies show patients are skipping doctor visits and scheduled medical laboratory tests to avoid paying the full costs of the visits. That’s why the market for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) has grown in popularity. HSAs enable patients to take control of their healthcare and plan for the inevitable bills.
And grown it has! As of June 30, there were more than 21 million HSAs in the United States, with holdings of about $43 billion in assets. That’s according to a survey by Devenir, a healthcare account investment advisory and research firm. By the end of 2019, Devenir projects the HSA market will exceed $60 billion in assets held in nearly 30 million accounts.
This steep growth curve in HSA accounts is good news for medical laboratories and pathology groups because it indicates consumers are taking advantage of these tax-advantaged savings accounts to set aside funds needed to pay their high-deductible health bills.
HSAs Help Both Patients and Provider, including Medical Laboratories
According to the survey Devenir conducted in July 2017, which primarily reflected data from the largest 100 HSA providers, the typical HSA investment account holder has a $15,146 average total balance in deposits and investments.
“We continue to see impressive HSA growth, especially amongst those HSA assets held in investments as consumers begin to understand how HSAs can help them save for both their current and future healthcare expenses,” noted Jon Robb, Devenir Senior Vice President of Research and Technology, in a statement.
HSAs were authorized by the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 and entered the market in January 2004. Ever since the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) came into play in 2014, HSA accounts have grown significantly in size and popularity, as have HDHPs. From 2015 to 2016, HSA accounts recorded a 22% increase in assets year over year, Devenir reported.
HSAs Could Double Under American Health Care Act
Under current law, HSA accounts must be paired with an HDHP. For 2017, the IRS has defined “high deductible” as any deductible higher than $1,300 for an individual or $2,600 for a family, so a health insurance plan must meet that threshold for a consumer to qualify for an HSA. In addition, annual contributions are capped at $3,400 individuals or $6,750 for families. Those over 55 can contribute an extra $1,000.
But a boom in HSA accounts may be on the horizon if Republicans succeed in replacing Obamacare. Provisions of the GOP-backed American Health Care Act (AHCA), which stalled this summer after passing by a narrow vote in the House of Representatives, would nearly double HSA contribution limits and introduce other changes that would spur growth.
“Whatever direction healthcare reform goes, it is clear that the HSA will be a key component of consumers’ financial decisions in healthcare,” wrote Steve Christenson, Executive Vice President at Ascensus, in 401K Specialist. “After all, HSAs and HDHPs were market-driven prior to the enactment of the ACA and continued to be with its passage. The economy will continue to drive this trend as employers seek to attract and retain employees in this tight job market.”
HSA contributions can be invested and grow tax free as long as withdrawals are used for qualified medical expenses. Because accounts move with healthcare consumers if they change jobs or insurers, HSAs are viewed as excellent investment options.
HSAs Great Opportunity for Elderly to Control Their Healthcare
Even if Republicans fail to revamp healthcare, HSA industry leaders are expected to continue to look for ways to expand into additional markets. According to a Kaiser Health News article, companies that manage HSA accounts are “eager to reach new markets, including baby boomers in Medicare and enrollees in the military’s Tricare system, for whom—under current law—HSAs are off-limits.”
Eric Remjeske, President and co-founder of Devenir, believes those over 65 would seize upon an opportunity to use an HSA account to help offset Medicare’s cost sharing expenses.
“That is a great population that has the potential to save and really take more control over their healthcare,” Remjeske told Kaiser Health News.
Industry officials are confident HSAs will continue their upward trajectory, attracting new customers and additional healthcare dollars.
“The political and economic winds are favorable and most definitely pushing HSAs,” Kevin Robertson, Senior Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer for HSA Bank, the industry’s third-largest company, told Kaiser Health News.
What’s good for the HSA industry also may prove to be good for medical laboratories. If more healthcare consumers turn to HSAs to pay their out-of-pocket medical costs, including clinical laboratory services, the fear that increased enrollment in high-deductible plans will cause a reduction in the utilization of clinical lab tests may prove to be unfounded.
—Andrea Downing Peck