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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Health Savings Accounts and High-Deductible Health Plans: A Data Primer

Carol Rapaport
Analyst in Health Care Financing

Individuals began establishing health savings accounts (HSAs) in 2004. These savings accounts are generally used to pay for unreimbursed medical expenses on a tax-advantaged basis. Any unspent money accrues to the individual. To open an HSA, the individual must enroll in a qualifying high-deductible health plan (HDHP). HSAs are tax-advantaged and provide some incentives for people to monitor, and perhaps reduce, their expenditures on health care. 

Data covering enrollment and/or cost sharing during the first few years of HDHPs and their associated HSAs are now available from at least five separate sources. This primer provides information on the data sources, together with the most recent data available from each source on enrollment, premiums and deductibles. 

Only one source, the Internal Revenue Service, provides data on HSAs. These data count the number of tax filing units that took a deduction for the HSA on their tax returns. Two sources provide data on HDHPs whose owners are eligible to open an HSA. One of these data sources, from the American Health Insurance Plans, is a census of virtually all lives covered by a HSAeligible HDHP. The remaining two sources provide data that includes individuals with another type of health-related savings account (the Health Reimbursement Account). 

In addition to differing by the type of insurance plan covered, the data sources differ in the insurance markets analyzed, and whether the information is provided by employers, insurance companies, or individuals. Great caution should be exercised in any attempt to combine data from these different sources. A more fruitful strategy would be to decide on a specific question and use only the source which best answers that question.

Date of Report: August 17, 2010
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RS22877
Price: $29.95

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