A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged medical savings account available to taxpayers in the United States who are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). The funds contributed to an account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. Unlike a flexible spending account (FSA), funds roll over and accumulate year to year if not spent. HSAs are owned by the individual, which differentiates them from company-owned Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA) that are an alternate tax-deductible source of funds paired with either HDHPs or standard health plans. HSA funds may currently be used to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time without federal tax liability or penalty.
However, beginning in early 2011 OTC (over the counter) medications cannot be paid with HSA dollars without a doctor’s prescription. Withdrawals for non-medical expenses are treated very similarly to those in an individual retirement account (IRA) in that they may provide tax advantages if taken after retirement age, and they incur penalties if taken earlier. These accounts are a component of consumer-driven health care.
Proponents of HSAs believe that they are an important reform that will help reduce the growth of health care costs and increase the efficiency of the health care system. According to proponents, HSAs encourage saving for future health care expenses, allow the patient to receive needed care without a gatekeeper to determine what benefits are allowed and make consumers more responsible for their own health care choices through the required High-Deductible Health Plan.
Opponents of HSAs say they worsen, rather than improve, the U.S. health system’s problems because people who are healthy will leave insurance plans while people who have health problems will avoid HSAs. There is also debate about consumer satisfaction with these plans. Some opponents believe medical expenses should be tax-deductible for all individuals, not only those who have a savings plan.