by Chris Byrd
Last week, two separate congressional committees convened to explore how consumer-directed healthcare plans (CDHPs) and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), when paired with health savings accounts (HSAs), can make healthcare more affordable and accessible for Americans. American consumers have established more than 22 million HSAs, a figure that has grown steadily in recent years and is expected to reach 27.5 million by 2019.
On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means health subcommittee held a Capitol Hill hearing on the role of CDHPs in expanding access to healthcare, lowering healthcare costs and increasing the number of choices available to consumers. The hearing addressed everything from trends in HSA enrollment to policies that would give more consumers access to tax-advantaged savings accounts.
It began with a testimony by Health Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam, who said, “Healthcare reform should empower individuals and families to make decisions for themselves based on what fits their needs and budget. One of the best tools we have to accomplish this goal is consumer-directed health plans that are paired with HSAs. These plans offer lower premiums and a higher deductible to encourage better use of healthcare services. Engaging consumers in their healthcare spending is critical to reining in our system’s ever-increasing costs.”
Other experts who spoke at the hearing include Roy Ramthun, president of HSA Consulting Services; Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP); Jody Dietel, chief compliance officer for WageWorks; and Sherry Glied, dean of New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
The following day, the Joint Economic Committee also met to discuss the potential for HSAs to engage patients and bend the healthcare cost curve. Including members of both the House and the Senate, the committee reviews economic conditions and recommends improvements in economic policy. Among those who spoke at its most recent hearing, Kevin McKechnie of the HSA Council, Tracy Watts of Mercer and the American Benefits Counsel and Dr. Scott Atlas of the Hoover Institution explored statistics on the adoption and usage of HSAs, their effect on healthcare expenditures and both the short and long-term effects of greater adoption of CDHPs and HDHPs/HSAs respectively.
Dr. Atlas concluded his testimony with this call to action: “Expanded, liberalized and transferable HSAs represent a key instrument in an overall strategy of broadening access to affordable, high quality healthcare for everyone. If appropriately designed, HSAs represent a strong incentive to consider price and value for those seeking medical care. HSAs offer more effective incentives than tax deductions for health expenses. HSAs have been proven to reduce the cost of medical care for individuals, and also to improve health by increasing the use of validated wellness programs. While expanded HSAs alone are not necessarily a panacea, they are a critically important and effective step.”
At the crux of both hearings last week was the assertion that as CDHPs become of increasing importance to Americans, more legislation is needed to make them even more beneficial to consumers; this would require numerous amendments to the tax code. According to McKechnie “These ideas are vetted, bipartisan, and affordable. Some would actually save taxpayer money. Individually and together, they can dramatically strengthen the proven, successful HSA model.”
The House Ways and Means health subcommittee hearing, which streamed live on the web, can be viewed in full below.
The Joint Economic Committee’s hearing on HSAs can also be viewed in full below:
Health savings accounts in many ways offer something for everyone. To learn more about their advantages, read our blog post here.