The current options in medical insurance
aren't as complicated as the medical care and science
they pay for, but it can seem that way as you try to
decipher and unravel the intricacies of HSAs, HRAs and
These health savings accounts, or HSAs;
health reimbursement accounts, or HRAs, and flexible
spending accounts, or FSAs, "are definitely not your
father's health insurance policy," says Gary Thornton,
a human resources management consultant in Scarborough,
a lot of people today," Thornton says, "their health plan is the card they carry
in their wallet and hand in at the doctor's office, along with their $10 co-pay."
However, more and more companies are switching
to health plans that will save them money. As a result,
the employees and their families often have to take
charge of their own health care and become as picky
and price-conscious about health care as they are about
anything else they buy.
problem is, Thornton adds, "they've never had to deal with the question of being
responsible for their own health care before."
Jordan Schreier, of the Butzel Long law firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., the idea behind
"consumer-driven or consumer-directed health care is that it will make employees
smart consumers of health care because they will be spending their own money,
they will ask questions about what procedures might cost and if there are alternatives."
"It requires education," says MaryJo Pasek,
an associate with TWIW Insurance Services in Bakersfield,
Calif. People have to understand what they are getting
-- and not getting -- for their money. "These programs
are not for everybody," she says.
Many people should stay with
the traditional health care plans that their companies offer and will continue
to offer for the foreseeable future.
The new plans do offer
a chance for companies and corporations to cut their share of health insurance
costs and help educated employees reduce their own share of the cost, too, says
Lillian Collier, another associate and benefits specialist at TWIW. But the employees
offered these options "have to know what they are getting into and what they can
reasonably expect to pay for health care. If they don't, they could wind up paying
more money for less care."
For companies, "it's a cost-driven decision,"
says Schreier. "We've had double-digit increases in
the cost of health care over the past five years or
so, double digits each year."
way companies save money is by buying health insurance with a higher deductible.
It's like auto insurance. A policy with a $1,000 deductible -- one where you have
to pay the first $1,000 of repairs -- is a lot cheaper than a zero-deductible
policy where the insurance company has to pay everything. Some companies are passing
those savings on to their employees by "sweetening the pot" to make consumer-directed
health insurance more appealing.
It is important to remember
that each company runs its own health plan system. Some put more company money
into consumer-driven accounts than others. Some also add incentives to encourage
employees to get involved in wellness programs. The IRS also sets limits on what
you can put into and take out of some of these accounts, and those limits can
change every year.
HSAs, health savings
HSAs began in 2004. They are often funded entirely by
the employee. According to a report by the Society for
Human Resource Management, or SHRM in June 2006, about
6 percent of companies that offer HSAs match their employees'
contributions; many other companies put in lesser amounts.
explains that an HSA helps "individuals save on a tax-free basis for future qualified
medical and retiree health care costs." It has to be coupled with a high-deductible
health insurance plan, one that doesn't kick in until medical costs have hit at
least the $1,050 mark for individual coverage or $2,100 for someone with family