Medical savings accounts on the upswing

By David Albertson

As of 2012 there was $17.8 billion in health savings accounts (HSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), spread across 11.6 million accounts, according to data from the latest EBRI/MGA Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey, sponsored by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Matthew Greenwald & Associates.

That’s up from 2006, when there were 1.3 million accounts with $873.4 million in assets, and 2011, when 8.5 million accounts held $12.4 billion in assets.

The balances continue to grow as more employers adopt high-deductible, consumer-driven health plans combined with HSAs/HRAs. However, assumptions about these plans are not always proving true. For example, analysts predicted that individuals given more control over funds for health care services would become more cost conscious as they became more educated about the actual prices of those services. However, according to EBRI, no evidence was found to support this, nor was there evidence that healthy behaviors had any real correlation with account balance.

Among other findings from the EBRI/MGA survey:

After leveling off, average account balances increased. After average account balances leveled off in 2008 and 2009, and fell slightly in 2010, they increased in 2011 and 2012. In 2006, the   average account balance was $696. It increased to $1,320 in 2007, a 90% increase. Account balances averaged $1,356 in 2008 and $1,419 in 2009, 3% and 5% increases, respectively. In 2010, average account balances fell to $1,355, down 4.5% from the previous year. In 2011, average account balances increased to $1,470, a 9% increase from 2010. It increased to $1,534, or 4%, in 2012.

Total and average rollovers increased. After declining to $1,029 in 2010, average rollover amounts increased to $1,206 in 2011 and remained there in 2012. Total assets being rolled over increased: $9.7 billion was rolled over into HSAs and HRAs in 2012, up from $6.8 billion in 2011. The percentage of individuals without a rollover was 11% in 2012.

Differences in account balances. Men have higher account balances than women, older individuals have higher account balances, account balances increase with household income, and education has a significant impact on account balances, independent of income and other variables.

Individual providers of HSAs likewise report significant growth in account balances over the past year, and bullish expectations for additional increases.

Among the HSA leaders, UMB Healthcare Services, a division of UMB Financial Corporation, announced that account balances for its HSAs grew 55% during the previous 12 months, surpassing $615 million dollars as of Jan. 31, 2013. The number of HSAs also grew to nearly 320,000 individual accounts, up dramatically from the 220,000 following open enrollment last year.

UMB Healthcare Services also saw a 29% increase in the number of debit cards it provides for Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), HRAs) and HSAs. Today, the number of cards in circulation has grown to more than 2.8 million.

According to the January 2012 annual census by America’s Health Insurance Plans’ Center for Policy and Research, the number of people with HSA/HDHP coverage rose to more than 13.5 million, up from 11.4 million in January 2011.

“Our HSA growth continues to reflect the trend we are seeing nationwide as more individuals and employers move toward consumer-directed health accounts,” said Dennis Triplett, CEO of UMB Healthcare Services. “We are now challenged with educating the growing number of employers and account holders on all that these accounts can offer toward future financial stability, beyond day-to-day health care expenses.”