Health account balances grow on

By BenefitsPro

By Kathryn Mayer

Health savings account participation, and contributions, is continuing to grow at a record pace, according to new analysis.

Roughly 70 percent of workers with a health reimbursement account or a health savings account said their employers contributed to the account in 2012, continuing a steady increase since 2009, according to research released Wednesday by the Employee Benefits Institute.

Employer contributions of $200−$499 increased from 14 percent to 22 percent between 2009 and 2011, while employers that contributed $1,000 or more increased from 24 percent to 28 percent. Among workers with family coverage, employer contribution levels were unchanged between 2010 and 2012, with 63 percent contributing $1,000 or more.

Forty-two percent of employees said they contributed at least $1,500 to an HSA last year, while just 15 percent said they made no contribution, the institute found.

EBRI Director Paul Fronstein said the growing contributions may be due in part to the strengthening economy. There was a slight drop in the accounts during the recent recession, as average account balances leveled off in 2008 and 2009, and fell slightly in 2010. But they have been picking back up in 2011 and 2012.

According to the EBRI’s research, 11.6 million adults ages 21–64 (or 7 percent of the population) were enrolled in a plan with an HRA or HSA. An additional 7 million reported that they were covered by an HSA-eligible plan but had not opened such an account. Thus, overall, 18.6 million adults ages 21–64 with private insurance, representing 15.4 percent of that market, were either in a CDHP or an HSA-eligible plan but had not opened the account that would be used to fund covered expenses. When their children were counted, 25.2 million individuals with private insurance, representing 14.6 percent of the market, were either in a CDHP or an HSA-eligible plan.

These individual health accounts are a central element in so-called “consumer-driven” health plans, which first began to appear in the work place about 12 years ago. They are designed to give individuals more control over funds allocated for health care services, thereby causing health plan participants to spend the money more responsibly. But the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes some new restrictions on HSAs, as they can no longer be used to buy over-the-counter drugs unless a doctor writes a prescription.

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