A health savings account can be a big money-saver for some people. But families who frequent the doctor's office may find that an HSA is not the best choice. See "Cutting health savings account costs" for more information.
Wiley Long, president of HSA for America, says that just as auto insurance does not pay for oil changes, an HSA does not pay (or co-pay) for routine doctor visits and prescriptions until you meet your deductible, at which point it typically pays for everything.
But for those in relative good health who are financially able to pay out of pocket for the few times they visit the doctor -- thereby letting their HSA balance grow -- an HSA can be a no-brainer. HSAs typically offer attractive guaranteed interest rates, and many now offer investment options as well.
"If you are switching from a co-pay plan to an HSA plan, it is not at all uncommon to save 40 (percent) to 50 percent in terms of premiums," Long says. "Then, if you add the tax savings you get if you fully fund your HSA, you can get an even bigger number."
Another benefit of the growing popularity of HSAs is the emergence of insurance brokers, such as Long, who specialize in helping consumers comparison shop for a new or better HSA.
His Web site -- HSA for America -- offers instant quotes from more than 72 different plans based on your ZIP code. (Health insurance rates are regulated at the state level).
Or, you can browse by insurer. Some of the majors include Aetna, American National, Assurant, Humana and UnitedHealthcare, parent company to HSA pioneer Golden Rule.
Naturally, the devil is in the details; your physical condition, verified by a medical checkup, can and likely will affect your ability to command the rock-bottom preferred rate. However, the range of rates quoted may help you determine if your current premiums are wildly out of line.
Long says the optimal strategy for all HSA holders is the same.
"What I recommend is that you maximize your contribution each year, and as you build money up in your HSA, you can be more comfortable going with a higher-deductible health insurance plan, which will, in turn, lower your rates," he says.