Health Savings Accounts: An Alternative in the Health Insurance Industry
Lee Posey May 18, 2007
I’m skeptical of the government’s ability to provide quality healthcare. Imagine if going to the doctor were like going to the DMV: long lines, poor customer service, that dirty feeling when you finally get out. Scary. And do you see how much the government already takes out of your paycheck? It would make more sense to be able to use that tax money in a way that benefits you, individually, instead of letting the government regulate it. I don’t trust the government that much, no matter who’s in charge.
As an alternative healthcare practitioner, I see the effects of our failed system on a daily basis. I hear my clients saying things like, “I need to go to the dentist, but I don’t have insurance,” or, “I sprained my foot, but I couldn’t do anything about it because I don’t have insurance.” I sympathize with them, because I know how it feels to one of the uninsured. But I also tell them that you aren’t required to have insurance to go to the doctor. You do not have to use insurance to receive health care.
There are alternatives to becoming a slave to the health insurance industry. We must change our perception and find alternatives, or the system will never change. One such alternative, a Health Savings Account (HSA), was made public in a provision of the Medicare Act of 2003.
“Health Savings Accounts are a new option for health insurance and they have two parts. The first part is a health insurance policy that covers large hospital bills. The second part of the Health Savings Account is an investment account or retirement account from which you can withdraw money tax-free for medical care. Otherwise, the money accumulates with tax-free interest until retirement, when you can withdraw for any purpose and pay normal income taxes.” (http://www.hsainsider.com/hsabasics.aspx)
First, you purchase a high-deductible health insurance plan to cover any catastrophic medical bills that you may incur. This covers you in case of an unexpected accident or disease (isn’t that what insurance is supposed to do – insure against substantial loss?). Then you open an HSA to save for typical health expenses: doctor visits, glasses, massage, dental cleanings, therapy, or whatever treatments make you healthier.
An HSA works like any other savings account with many different options for how you want to store your money. For example, you can have a low-interest account with a trusted bank. This type of account usually allows you to pay for health expenses directly with a check card. You can also choose to get reimbursed from an account managed by your health insurance company. The entire process offers the consumer many choices, and it’s fairly easy to set up. I just made a few calls, signed a few documents, and made my first deposit. Now I can manage my account online.
An HSA differs from a Medical Savings Account (MSA) and a Flexible Spending Account in important ways. Check out http://www.msainfo.net/ to learn about the differences between the older MSA and the “new generation” HSA. Flex Spending Accounts are offered by many employers, but an HSA is unattached to your job, so you can carry your account with you if you change careers or if your employer does not offer such benefits. One of the most important differences between a Flex Account and an HSA is that with the latter, you carry your balance to the next year, instead of having to spend it all by the end of the year to avoid losing it. You can just keep growing your balance year after year, while acquiring interest.
For professional advice on Health Savings Accounts, check out ehealthinsurance.com or HSA Insider.com. “The Pros and Cons of Health Savings Accounts” takes a good objective look at issues concerning this new option. (http://www.forhealthfreedom.org/Publications/HealthIns/HSAsProsCons.html)
You can find HSA-compatible high deductible health insurance plans through Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Unicare, United, Humana, Assurant, and other major insurance companies.
Our health care system is broken, and the only way we’re going to fix it is by taking responsibility for our own health care. This problem is a result of letting insurance companies come between our health care providers and us. A person that we’ve never met (and who probably lives in a different town, is not a medical professional, and has no idea what a our individual health needs may be) is designing our insurance coverage. They are deciding how many times we can go to the dermatologist in one year and whether or not a chiropractor will make our headaches go away. They tell us that we must get a referral from another doctor if we want to see a specialist.
Specialists break us into parts. We are no longer a whole person, but systems, organs, and regions.
What we end up with is a failed health care system and a cycle of disconnection.
Doctors are getting frustrated with the state of our insurance-centered health care as well. Many doctors I’ve talked to are hungry for patients to pay out-of-pocket because then they don’t have to file the piles of red tape paperwork required by insurance companies. My doctors have seemed to treat me more like a human being since they learned I was paying out-of-pocket. They know not to order tests I really don’t need or prescribe unnecessary antibiotics. I have become a resourceful patient. No wasted energy on me. I have simplified it for myself and for my doctors, so we can all focus on making sure I am healthy.