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Why Health Savings Accounts are No Longer a Banking Industry Pariah

The High Deductible Insurance Competition Heats Up

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; MBA

[Editor-in-Chief]

As ME-P readers are aware, I’ve had a High Deductible Healthcare Plan [HDHP] coupled with a Health Savings Account [HSA] for my family, and consulting firm, for more than a decade. We’ve been very pleased with it thus far. No significant health problems along the way; just a few scares that proved costly, but benign, because of physician over-protection, over-reaction, or liability phobia; i.e., its better to be safe, than sorry!.

Still, having some economic skin in the insurance game because of the high-deductible feature, makes one an informed consumer. It also provides a sense of empowerment which, while ultimately illusionary for mortals, does offer a bit of self-control. After all, while we can’t mitigate against drunk-drivers and catastrophic diseases, we can live a healthy lifestyle and pay out of pocket for true health “maintenance” … much as we self-pay to maintain our cars and homes, etc. We can do our best … and hope for the rest.

Of course, the savings portion [HSA] has always been a secondary after-thought relative to the actual re-insurance coverage terms, exclusions and conditions. I personally remain focused on the indemnity or PPO type with full coverage, no co-payments and few restrictions. After all, if I use up my high-deductible for an adverse health incident, I figure I have far more problems to worry about than economic. My health, well-being and probably life are significantly in peril.

Nevertheless, as a health economist, I have always appreciated the above market rates given to my cash HSA account; 5% to 4.0% historically; and now 2.5% even after the domestic implosion thru 2010. Compared to the paltry 0.19% in my FDIC protected Wachovia money market deposit account, or the 0.5% in my non-FDIC protected money market mutual fund [brokerage] account; this is a great deal. And, it is tax exempt.

Oh the Irony! 

So, it comes as some surprise that after more than a decade, and the recent health insurance reform political debacle, that there is a surge of interest in the HSA companion. This time however, interest comes not from the insured’s – but the insurers. And, not from the health insurance industry, but rather from the affiliated [and desperate] banking industry.

How so – and why?

Well, it now seems some insurance companies actually desire the business of folks like me who are willing to bear a higher deductible in return for lower premiums, or who are willing to research CPT® code prices and question the efficacy of the procedures they negotiate with physicians in a collaborative fashion; or who are willing to watch their weights and abstain from over-indulgences for their own good. How novel; and again, why?

It’s the HSA pot-o-gold; Duh!

The Proof

Below, is a copy of an email I personally received from eHealthInsurance soliciting my separate health savings account [HSA] business; not my health insurance coverage business:

Dear David,

Did you know that your health insurance plan can be complemented by a Health Savings Account (HSA)? If you haven’t opened an HSA yet, it’s not too late! An HSA allows you to:

  • Use funds to pay for copays, deductibles, prescription drugs, dental services, vision care and more
  • Save money by deducting 100% of your HSA contributions from your taxable income
  • Earn tax-free interest on the funds that accrue in your account over time
  • Grow your account from year to year – the money you contribute won’t expire; you can even use an HSA as a secondary retirement savings account

There are no penalties or taxes when you use your HSA funds to pay for qualified medical expenses. Take advantage of your health plan’s benefits and open an HSA today! eHealthInsurance has partnered with nationally recognized, highly-rated HSA banks to offer you industry leading choices:

  • The Bancorp Bank
  • HSA Bank
  • JPMorgan Chase Bank
  • OptumHealth Bank
  • Sovereign Bank
  • Wells Fargo Bank

We’re with you every step of the way

Our representatives are also available for online chat 24 hours day.

Gary Matalucci
Vice President of Customer Care

The Question Is?

Such the deal; NOT!

So, any thinking HDHP participant [like me] must logically ask why such “nationally recognized, highly-rated HSA banks” would offer above market rates during these times of essentially zero interest rate levels.  Why the interest at all? Are they trying to loose money; or are they just befriending me?

As tennis player John McEnroe might say: are you serious!

Assessment

Yes John, the high rates are a serious loss-leader for more expensive products.

These banks want to make money; not from the non-existent interest rate spread on your HSA cash, but by enticing us to place this growing cash horde into their “investment vehicles.”  In the recent past, some of us mortgaged our homes chasing the stock market or were goaded into flipping houses. And now, these same bankers are encouraging us to mortgage our health insurance on whatever high-priced, low-quality, fee-ridden, load bearing, snarky “investment vehicles” they can pawn off on us.

Of course, the health insurance companies get a fat sales commission or percentage cut, as well. A win-win situation for all but us – the insured.

Think AARP.

My Personal Advice

Do not do it. Do not take the bait.

The HSA portion of your HDHP is for paying premiums and future medical care in the event of a health catastrophe. It is for savings, not for investing in a risk-bearing vehicle. Far too many of us realized too late that a home is a place to live – not an investment. Likewise, a health savings account is for your health, and health insurance – not risky investing.

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Assessment

Well, that’s my opinion as a retired surgeon, former insurance agent and financial advisor.

Conclusion

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