What is a Health Savings Account

By: Linda Shute

Healthy children are easier on the household budget unfortunately not everyone is so blessed so what do you do? When considering the family budget and being a good parent, providing quality healthcare at a reasonable price is right up there with the mortgage payment, car payments and college tuition.

Health Savings Accounts can be simple and easy to understand. A Health Savings Account is a tax-favored savings account combined with a qualifying high-deductible health insurance plan. Health Savings Accounts allow you to legally avoid federal income tax by depositing 100% of the health plan's deductible, up to $2,850 for singles or $5,650 for families, into your Health Savings Account. Health Savings Accounts, (HSA) touted as a way to lower health-insurance costs and broaden coverage, have fallen short of their promise. They are gaining popularity because they allow individuals, rather than an HMO or the government, to take charge of their health care. Also, they're an excellent option for individuals and families without employer-sponsored health insurance. Health Savings Accounts are becoming quite popular for people who are generally healthy and they're leading the way in this transition.

Savings can be used to help pay the deductible and for non-covered medical expenses, such as dental and vision. Savings reduce or eliminate annual out-of-pocket exposure. Savings not spent remain in the HSA tax-deferred. Savings and investments unlike premiums, unused HSA dollars remain in the HSA until you use them later. Day-to-day expenses come out of the health savings account, while catastrophic expenses are covered by insurance. Health Savings Accounts are gaining popularity because they allow individuals, rather than an HMO or the government, to take charge of their health care. A Health Savings Account combined with a High Deductible Health Insurance Plan gives individuals an economic incentive to become better consumers of health care services because they are now spending their own money up to the level of their high deductible. Health Savings Accounts are an excellent option for individuals and families without employer-sponsored health insurance.

If your employer offers a high-deductible health insurance policy, you may be able to make pretax contributions, like you would with a flexible-spending account. Legislation passed by Congress December 9, 2006, will let you make a one-time transfer of funds tax free from a flexible-spending account to an HSA. You cannot have an HSA if you use a flexible-spending account to pay health-care costs or if you have other medical coverage (say, through a spouse's policy). You can keep the money in an HSA account even after you leave that job, similar to a 401(k). Keep in mind that you can continue to withdraw money from the account tax-free for qualified medical expenses after age 65. You can't make new HSA contributions after age 65, but you can still use the money in your account tax-free for medical expenses at any age.

Deposits to an HSA may be made by any policyholder of a qualified High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP), by an employer on behalf of a policyholder, or any other person. Previously, the annual maximum deposit to an HSA was the lesser of the HDHP deductible or specified IRS limits. As of 2007 plan years, Congress has abolished the lower limit based on the deductible, and the maximum contribution will simply be the statutory limit. These include deductibles and coinsurance as well as many other expenses not covered under medical plans, such as dental, vision and chiropractic care; durable medical equipment such as eyeglasses and hearing aids; purchase and use of qualifying over-the-counter medications; and transportation expenses related to medical care. Contributions are deductible, the account accumulates tax-free, and withdrawals used for medical expenses are tax-free. Contributions and gains can be rolled from year to year - there's no "use it or lose it". Contributions to the HSAs are tax-deductible at the federal and state level.

Healthcare is the number one issue facing many individuals and companies in America. Now with the release of Michael Moore's new movie, SICKO, the debate on healthcare in the USA in on. Many well-meaning people believe that a government take-over of healthcare coverage, called a "single-payer" system, is the answer. Health Savings Accounts are combined with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) to offer a more affordable approach to healthcare. They were created to help give control back to consumers and lower healthcare costs. While most healthcare insurance clients say they are satisfied with their current plans, the landscape changes when major illnesses start. Alternatively, your HSA balance can be used to cover your post-age-65 healthcare costs including Medicare Part A and B premiums, Medicare HMO premiums, garden-variety health premiums, insurance deductibles and co-payments, prescriptions, long-term care insurance premiums, and so forth. But what about the person who lives pay check to pay check or the single parent trying to provide healthcare for themselves and children. Combine a tax-favored Health Savings Account (HSA) and an HSA-eligible health insurance plan to save money tax-free for healthcare costs.

Health Savings Account Plans help you take control of your health care expenses with a tax-favored savings account and quality medical coverage. Health Savings Account (HSA) Plans are an excellent choice for individuals and families who want to control their health insurance costs by combining a lower cost high deductible health insurance plan with a tax advantaged savings account and network discounts. Learn how to take advantage of the money-saving benefits of a Health Savings Account. By allowing you to deposit tax-deductible funds into a health savings account that you can use to cover medical costs, Health Savings Accounts enable you to take control of your own health care decisions. Once your insurance policy has become effective, you may begin to fund your Health Savings Account. Please note: To obtain the maximum tax benefit from your Health Savings Account in 2008 as well as lock in 2007 rates, you must have your HSA-qualified insurance plan effective no later than December 31. There are about 10 million people enrolled in "consumer-driven health plans," and about 6 million of those are Health Savings Accounts. To really maximize your savings pair up a Discount Health Plan, for the everyday savings on you health care, with your HSA and HDHP. You may want to read my other article on Healthcare and the Family Budget - How to Get the Biggest Bang for Your Buck!

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