IN THIS ISSUE:
? HSA Buyers Welcomed by President Bush
? Survey Shows Major Benefits of Consumer Responsibility
? Pennsylvania Legislature Moves State HSA Bill
? Florida Legislature to Consider Pro-Consumer Reforms
? CPAs Advised on HSAs in Texas
? HR Executives Advised – Time to Get Onboard w/ HSAs?
? Insurers Advised – Gain Market Share with HSAs
HSAs are hitting the market and the media from top to bottom and everywhere in between. Some examples:
HSA Buyers Welcomed by President Bush
The President went to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to highlight Health Savings Accounts on March 16. Galen’s Health Policy Matters has already featured the event, but national events like this also play out locally. One of the employers featured was Dan Schmidt, owner of Mercury Office Supply in St. Paul, MN. He bought what may have been the first group HSA sold in the country by signing a contract with Prime Health on January 1, 2004. The “Minneapolis Star Tribune” picked up on the local angle in an article headlined “Mr. Schmidt Goes to Washington.” The article explained that the call from the White House was completely unexpected and Mr. Schmidt was reluctant to cancel a day’s worth of meetings to fly off on short notice. But his employees insisted. Alicia Gordon is quoted in the article as saying, “We were just pushing him out the door, saying, ‘You’ve got to go do this.'” Mr. Schmidt reports, “I feel honored, I feel privileged, and I feel at the same time grateful.” He told the President that his 18-person company will save almost $11,000 on their health care costs this year due to the HSA program.
Survey Shows Major Benefits of Consumer Responsibility
The same newspaper also features the Watson Wyatt study done for the National Business Group on Health we reported on last week. Now that the study has been released, it seems there is even more support for consumer driven approaches in it. The article says that “companies that work with employees to contain costs said they expect a median 7% increase in health care costs this year … [while] companies that do less to engage workers? can expect a median cost increase of 17%?.” Watson Wyatt spokesman Ted Chien says, “The results of this study strongly suggest that employers with programs that encourage employees to be more responsible for their health care decisions are beginning to reap the rewards.” He adds, “The study shows that the years of attempting to control costs using traditional methods are over.” In a related press release, NBGH president Helen Darling said, “Employers are beginning to recognize there’s a new reality that requires new choices.” And Mr. Chien adds, “The timing for this new approach to controlling health care costs couldn’t be better, particularly with the approval of health savings accounts as part of the new Medicare law?. HSAs offer employers an opportunity to revolutionize the way employees consume health care services and control future health care benefit cost increases.”
Pennsylvania Legislature Moves State HSA Bill
In the “Philadelphia Inquirer,” the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee of the Pennsylvania House has an op-ed urging support for H.B. 2299, that would extend state tax savings to HSAs. Rep. George Kenney writes that “employers and individuals need more options…” He says that “the accounts offer an innovative way [for employers] to afford health insurance as an employee benefit [and] … they give consumers more control over their health care decisions and costs.” He adds, “I see health savings accounts as the cornerstone of a new wave of consumer-directed health care … They will help more American families get the health care they deserve at a price they can afford.”
Florida Legislature to Consider Package of Pro-Consumer Reforms
In Florida, Lt. Governor Toni Jennings and Rep. Frank Farkas, chairman of the House Health Care Committee, have both been leading task forces to develop health reform proposals and have joined with Gov. Jeb Bush to develop a bill “that attempts to change the way healthcare is delivered in Florida and ultimately make insurance more affordable,” according to Mary Ellen Klas in the “Miami Herald.” Ms. Klas begins her article by saying, “Imagine having an account dedicated solely to your healthcare needs in which your employer makes the deposits and you control the withdrawals … You make such wise choices that, at the end of the year, you have money left in your account and you get to keep it for another year.” She says this describes the health care proposal the governor is pushing. It would require carriers in the small group market to offer HSAs, create a database so consumers could compare hospital and drug prices and quality, reopen the state high risk pool, and allow local communities to create purchasing pools. Kevin McCarty, director of the Office of Insurance Regulation, is supportive of the proposal saying, “We know more about buying a Volkswagen than we know about healthcare. I don’t think it’s easy, but I think we need to start tackling those issues and learn how to make choices on the quality of the care we get.”
CPAs Advised on HSAs in Texas
In Texas, the Society of CPAs has sent out an advisory on HSAs. It says, “Texans concerned about high medical costs have a new tool – the health savings account created by the 2003 Medicare Act.” The release goes on to address the key issues in a Q&A format and concludes, “If you’re unsure about whether an HSA is right for you, consult with a CPA.”
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HR Executives Advised — Time to Get Onboard with HSAs?
The Society for Human Resource Management published a piece by Brian O’Connell titled, “Health Savings Accounts: Time To Get Onboard?” He says HSAs “encourage employees to better manage their health care budgets – and thereby help employers to spend less.” He lays out the basics, and explains the similarities and differences between HSAs, FSAs, and HRAs. He notes that many companies are just learning about the concept and cites Anne Gauthier of Academy Health as urging employers to do due diligence in exploring the option, “Conduct tests, talk to health care practitioners, and ask questions of physicians?. In the end, HSAs may be the best option for employers – but you have to do your homework first.” Mr. O’Connell concludes, “There is little doubt that HSAs have the potential to dramatically change the way companies – and employees – view health care insurance.”
Insurers Advised – Gain Market Share with HSAs
The chief strategy officer for MyHealthBank, Donald Sacco, offers up a monograph on “How Health Insurers Can Leverage HSAs.” Mr. Sacco is a long-time Blue Cross Blue Shield executive, most recently president and CEO of Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon. He says, “HSAs offer the promise to more actively engage consumers in the health care purchase decision process. Evidence suggests that consumers have more interest, and become more critical shoppers, when medical care is purchased with money from their own pockets. Precisely the dynamic HSAs were created to achieve.” He goes on to advise insurers about the potential HSAs have to improve their share of various market segments and concludes, “This offers a huge market opportunity to those fully understanding the impact and potential of HSAs?.”
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