12. May 2016 · Comments Off on Obamacare Is The Law Of The Land, Not A Health Insurance Policy · Categories: Health Insurance

Open enrollment started for the healthcare law for individual and family policies on October 1st, with a start date of January 1st, 2014. There are a lot of misconceptions out there and people will end up wasting time looking for something that is not true. Tens of thousands of people only pick up their information from the media or their dear friends. Sometimes this can leave you with unanswered questions. This can really cost you some money.

Many Americans are trying to get a glimpse look at an Obamacare plan to see what all the hype is about. Through all of their fruitless searches, they end up empty-handed.

Obamacare is the nickname for the actual Healthcare Law signed in March of 2010. Some people are offended when people use this term because it was smeared by some opposing parties. However, the President himself actually endorsed the term. With his endorsement, it no longer a negative impression to the naked eye.

Obamacare created the infrastructure to change the way health insurance policies are bought and sold in the marketplace. That’s it! They built a big shopping plaza similar to Amazon.com®. This is called the Health Insurance Marketplace, formally the health insurance exchange. The theory behind it is the health insurance companies can compete for pricing inside one Marketplace, or shopping plaza. At the time of this writing, health insurance companies are not required to participate inside the Marketplace. Without the requirement to participate, it will lack the original idea of the health insurance companies competing for the business in one place.

This is because an insurance company can choose NOT to participate inside the Marketplace and sell plans outside of it. This will be no different from all of us purchased plans in the past, except the plans must include all healthcare reform mandates.

This infrastructure created a series of health plan models to simplify the process for consumers picking plans and clearly seeing what is covered. It was very confusing in the past. Now it is just a little confusing. We still have mud on our windshield.

The idea behind this is when a consumer is reviewing a health plan with one carrier against another, they can see they are VERY similar in coverage. Each carrier has their own personality to things such as the amount of co-pay, co-insurance and out-of-pocket expenses on a health plan. This will, in theory, make it easier for consumers to shop health plans.

The playing field has definitely changed forever as we know it. Any time there is change, it creates short-term turmoil in the marketplace with the consumer. Obamacare is a prime example of this.

The Health Insurance Marketplace is the only place where an individual or family can receive a tax credit for purchasing a health insurance plan. There are certain things that are required for you to qualify for a health insurance tax credit with the new law.

Just briefly, it will depend on what is indicated on your tax return. This will include your income, family status, and age. There may be other requirements that can change your eligibility status. The purpose of healthcare.gov is to determine your eligibility status. You will still be applying for coverage with the carrier that you choose, not the government website.

It is not required to purchase a health insurance plan inside the Marketplace. It is a HUGE misconception about making a move with the new health plans. If someone, or a family, does not qualify for any tax credit, there is absolutely no reason to purchase a plan inside the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Outside the Marketplace will have a few more options to choose from, along with the same, exact, health plans inside the Marketplace. The same plans inside and outside of the Marketplace will have the same premium. There is no difference in coverage or cost.

The health insurance carrier is the same, inside and outside the Marketplace. The plans and the price are the same (When comparing the same ones) inside and outside the Marketplace. When you purchase a plan, you will be paying the health insurance company, not the Federal government.

Obamacare is just the law of the land. That is it. There is no health plan sold through the Federal or State government. You are still purchasing a plan from a Major health insurance carrier that is authorized to sell a policy in your state. Obamacare just wrote the rules on what would be required by insurance companies in order to sell a health insurance plan in the future and how an individual or family will purchase that plan to protect everything they have worked so hard for.

06. May 2016 · Comments Off on Health Insurance Terms and Definitions · Categories: Health Insurance

One of the biggest problems for most people is simply understanding the health insurance benefits that they have. For the most part, health insurance policies try to be user-friendly in their wording, but many people are just not familiar with medical and insurance terminology.

Most health insurance policies also provide something similar to a cheat sheet which gives the basic outline of policy coverage and covers the most common medical services. However, you need to be sure that you understand the different things that are excluded under your plan. Many health insurance plans provide limited benefits for services such as mental health, chiropractic services, and occupational health. Even physical therapy and home health care are often limited to a certain number of visits per year.

Co-payment or Co-pay

A co-payment is a pre-determined amount that you must pay a medical provider for a particular type of service. For example, you may be required to pay a $15 co-payment when you visit your doctor. In this instance, you must pay $15 to the doctor’s office at the time of the visit. Normally, you are not required to pay any additional fees — your health insurance company will pay the rest. However, in some cases, if your health insurance policy specifies it, you may be responsible for a co-payment and then a percentage of the remaining balance.

Deductible

A deductible is the amount of your medical expenses you must pay for before the health insurance company will begin to pay benefits. Most health insurance plans have a calendar-year deductible which means that in January of every new year the deductible requirement starts over again. So, if your calendar year deductible is $1500, as long as your medical expenses for the current year do not exceed $1500 the insurance company pays nothing for that year. Once January of the new year starts, you have to begin again to pay for $1500 of your own medical expenses.

Coinsurance

Coinsurance (or out-of-pocket expense) is the amount or percentage of each medical charge that you are required to pay. For example, you may have a $100 medical charge. Your health insurance company will pay 80% of the charge and you are responsible for the additional 20%. The 20% is your coinsurance amount.

Coinsurance accrues throughout the year. If you have a large number of medical charges in one year, you may meet the coinsurance maximum requirement for your policy. At that point, any covered charges will be paid at 100% for the remainder of the calendar year.

Stop loss or out-of-pocket expense limit

Sometimes you will hear the out-of-pocket expense limit referred to as your stop loss or coinsurance amount. Basically, this is the amount you will need to pay out of your own pocket per calendar year before the health insurance company pays everything at 100%.

You will need to check your policy because many policies that require co-payments do not allow these co-payments to go toward the out-of-pocket amount. For example, you may have reached your out-of-pocket maximum for the year, so if you are admitted to the hospital you may pay nothing. However, since you have to pay a $15 co-payment every time you visit the doctor, you will still have to make this co-payment.

Lifetime maximum benefit

This is the maximum amount that the health insurance company will pay toward your medical expenses for the lifetime of your policy. Generally, this amount is in the millions of dollars. Unless you have a very severe condition, you will not likely exhaust this amount.

Preferred Provider Organization

A Preferred Provider Organization (also known as a PPO) is a group of participating medical providers who have agreed to work with the health insurance company at a discounted rate. It’s a win-win situation for each side. The insurance company has to pay less money and the providers receive automatic referrals.

In most health insurance policies, you will see different benefit levels depending on whether you visit a participating or nonparticipating provider. A PPO plan provides more flexibility for the insured person because they can visit either a participating or nonparticipating provider. They just receive a better price if they use a participating one.

Health Maintenance Organization

A Health Maintenance Organization (also known as an HMO) is a health insurance plan which restricts you to only using specified medical providers. Generally, unless you are out of the area of their network, no benefits are payable if you go to a nonparticipating physician. Typically, you are required to select one main doctor who will be your Primary Care Physician (PCP). Any time you have a health problem, you must visit this doctor first. If they feel that you need it, they will refer you to another network provider. However, you cannot just decide on your own to visit a specialist; you must go through your PCP.

Medically necessary

You will see this term in all health insurance policies, and it is a frequent cause of denied claims. Most insurance companies will not cover any expenses that they do not consider medically necessary. Just because you and/or your doctor consider something medically necessary, your health insurance company may not. For this reason, you always need to verify that any costly procedures you are considering will be covered.

Routine treatment

Routine treatment is generally defined as preventive services. For example, a yearly physical examination that you have on a regular basis is generally considered to be routine. Many of the immunizations that children and adults receive fall under this classification. Some insurance companies provide limited coverage for routine treatment; others provide no benefits at all.

Pre-existing condition

A pre-existing condition is a condition that you acquired and/or received treatment for prior to the effective date of your current health insurance policy. Health insurance companies vary on how they treat pre-existing conditions. Some companies will not give you coverage at all if you have certain chronic pre-existing conditions. Others will give you coverage but will not provide any benefits for a period of time — usually from 12-24 months. Still, other health insurance companies will specifically exclude a pre-existing condition from a policy and will never provide any benefits for that condition.

Be sure that you are very clear on the pre-existing limitations of your policy so that you are not unpleasantly surprised when you visit your doctor.

Explanation of Benefits

This is the form that the health insurance company sends you after they complete the handling of your claim. It details the bill they received and how they processed it. It is commonly called an EOB.

Coordination of Benefits

If you are eligible for benefits under more than one health insurance plan, your various health insurance companies will need to coordinate benefits. This insures that no more than 100% of the total charge is paid. There are many variations on how this situation can occur. In general, the primary company makes their payment first. Then you file a copy of the charges with the secondary company along with a copy of the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from the primary company. The secondary company usually picks up the remainder of the bill.

Participating provider

A participating provider is a medical provider who has signed a contract with a health insurance company or health insurance network to charge pre-determined rates to patients who are in the network.

Nonparticipating provider

A nonparticipating provider is a medical provider who does not have a contract with a particular health insurance company or network. If you use a nonparticipating provider, you will generally pay a larger portion of the bill. In some cases, you may be responsible for the entire bill.

Limited benefit plans

These are not considered to be comprehensive medical insurance plans. Instead, they provide very specific, limited benefits for different types of services. For example, they may provide a flat rate for each day you stay in the hospital or pay a limited amount for each surgical procedure that you have.

Typically, they are marketed toward people who cannot afford or are unable to obtain more comprehensive coverage due to pre-existing health conditions. Or, they may be geared toward people who have high-deductible plans. The good thing about these plans is that they generally pay in addition to any other coverage you may have. Therefore, no coordination of benefits is required.

If this is your only coverage, be aware that you will usually have to pay a large portion of any bill as these limited plans do not usually pay large amounts per day. For example, it may actually cost you $1000 a day to stay in the hospital. If your limited benefit plan pays you $200 a day for each day you spend in the hospital, you will be personally responsible for the remaining $800 per day.

Medicare supplement plans

People who have Medicare often choose to purchase a Medicare supplement plan as Medicare does not usually cover medical charges in full. Medicare continues to change and add new options but, in general, a supplemental plan pays the balance of the medical charges after Medicare pays its portion. For example, most Medicare supplements will pick up the Medicare deductible.

Some policies also pay for some of the charges that Medicare may not cover. There are many different policy variations. If you are not sure what you are purchasing, consider contacting a broker that assists senior citizens.

30. April 2016 · Comments Off on Buying Individual Health Insurance: 3 Essential Tips From a Health Insurance Specialist · Categories: Health Insurance

When you’re buying individual health insurance, you’ll probably get overwhelmed by the prices and options of health plans online. Health insurance is now one of the more expensive items in the budgets of many people, but it can also be one of the best decisions you make if you have some know-how selecting the right health plan for you and your family. Here I will give you the 3 Essential Tips that I advise my clients to use when purchasing individual health coverage.

Tip 1: Do not take health insurance advice from someone that is totally unqualified to give you this advice!!

I cannot stress this enough. It amazes me how many sensible people take advice about what health insurance to choose from people who are totally unqualified to give you this critical advice. For example, when I see health insurance messes, (which I see virtually every day) and I ask where they got their health plan information, I inevitably hear things like: “My brother-in- law told me to choose this health plan, he used to work at the hospital.” or “I read an article that says this is the best plan available.” And so on. Everyone’s got an opinion about what health plan you should choose. Just because they are your relative, or involved in some area of health care totally unrelated to insurance, does not mean they know the answers to your individual needs and questions! Work with an insurance specialist BEFORE the problems come up! You have no idea how many clients I have worked with come to me after they chose a health plan online and then have an insurance coverage issue and expect me to fix it, I want to tell them: you should have come to me for help before! Most insurance specialists get paid through insurance carriers, so their services are free to you. USE THEM!!

Tip 2: Determine your actual needs.

The three things to keep in mind when determining your needs are: budget, patterns of doctor and hospital visits, and prescription drug usage. Ask yourself these questions: How frequently do you visit your doctor? Do you go for checkups only or do you go for sick visits? How many times have you been in the hospital in the past 2 years? Do you take regular prescriptions? What are they? Generic or Brands? This is another area where most of my clients neglect. It is not possible to have maximum coverage in all of these areas in any affordable way, maximum coverage for the doctor and hospital plus prescriptions leaves a dent in the budget. However, most health insurance plans offer more than one version of the same plan. For example, say you have “health plan A” that offers maximum coverage for the doctor, maximum coverage for the hospital, and maximum coverage for your prescription drugs. But “health plan A” costs the same as your mortgage. The good news is “Health Plan A” most likely also has customizable options, meaning if after analyzing your needs, you discover that you rarely visit a hospital, you could change “health plan A’ s” hospital coverage to moderate or even minimal which will bring down the premium a great deal. If these options are confusing to you, again, a health insurance specialist will be able to help you. They are already aware of “health plan A’ s” customizable features and can match your needs to the appropriate version of “health plan A”. A health insurance specialist also has access to versions of health plans that aren’t available as options to the average consumer buying health insurance online.

Tip 3: Resist the urge to over-insure!!

After you’ve analyzed your needs, resist the urge to over-insure! One of the most common health insurance messes I see is over-insurance. People think that if they have maximum coverage for doctors, hospitals, and prescriptions, they have “good” insurance. The truth is, most people who will be approved for individual health insurance won’t need all this coverage. Two things I advise my clients to be aware of: Health Care Reform and Stop-Loss. First, Health Care Reform allows for preventive care services to be covered at 100%. For example, if you only get checkups, why enroll in the plan with 100% doctor’s visit coverage? Enroll in the plan with a lower premium and pay a $10 copay for your sick visit. The difference in premium with this small detail is $100’s of dollars! Furthermore, some of these “maximum coverage” health insurance plans exclude things like pregnancy. The last thing you want to do is pay a small fortune for “good” health insurance only to discover it won’t cover something you need it for! Second, most health insurance plans have a stop-loss built into them which basically states that when your out-of-pocket costs reach a certain amount, the plan will cover you at 100% for all services. And you don’t need the “maximum coverage” plan for this benefit. Your health insurance specialist can even customize this stop-loss amount!

Then, select your plan after following My 3 Essential Tips:

1. Do not take health insurance advice from someone unqualified to offer this advice. Seek a health insurance specialist, they have studied and are licensed to offer this advice and they’re free to you. USE THEM!!

2. Consider your actual needs. Ask yourself questions so you know what your specific health plan needs are, that way you can make sure you select a plan that meets them. After all, if you don’t know what you actually need in a plan, how will you know if you’ve come across the right fit?

3. Resist the urge to over-insure! Health Care Reform has changed how many plans work and you may be able to receive ample or superlative coverage without over-insuring. And most importantly, without the hefty premiums!

There you have it, online health insurance shoppers! I hope this was helpful!

23. April 2016 · Comments Off on Understanding Health Insurance in Virginia · Categories: Health Insurance

Health insurance remains one of the most talked about topics when it comes to products that are indispensable for residents of Virginia. With continued increase in healthcare costs, the importance of health insurance plans keeps increasing.

It goes without saying that residents of Virginia without insurance coverage are at a greater risk of experiencing financial insecurity during illness or injury. No doubt health insurance plans involve costs but affordable health policies are easily available and with the implementation of healthcare reforms, lots of options will be available to the Virginians.

Traditional indemnity insurance plans in Virginia

Traditionally, indemnity health insurance plans in Virginia offer reimbursement against the claims made by an insured person. The level of coverage provided by these plans could vary from basic to comprehensive depending upon the needs of the insured person. Accordingly, the costs of the health plans vary-premiums, deductibles, copays and coinsurance, etc.

Managed health care plans in Virginia

Unlike indemnity health plans, managed care health insurance plans involve a group of medical providers that offer comprehensive medical services. They are called preferred or participating providers.

There are basically three managed care options:

• Health Maintenance Organization or HMO

HMOs allow the insured person to select a primary care physician from the plan’s list of medical service providers. If it is necessary, the primary care physician will refer the insured person to a specialist.

• Preferred Provider Organization or PPO

PPOs allow the members to avail large medical care network. At a slightly higher cost, a PPO generally allows its members to receive care outside its network of providers

• Point of Service feature or POS

POS medical plans are special types of HMOs that allow the members to select a non-network provider at a slightly higher cost.

Impact of the Affordable Care Act of health insurance in Virginia

• Around 109,000 small businesses in Virginia will be helped with tax credit.

• Medicare beneficiaries will be mailed a check automatically to defray the costs of their prescription drugs.

• Early retirees would be provided options for reinsurance.

• $113 million federal dollars will be made available to Virginia starting July 1 to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

• With the new Act, Virginia enjoys the option of Federal Medicaid funding for coverage for all low-income populations, irrespective of age, disability, or family status, for the very first time.

• 4.7 million people in Virginia with private insurance won’t have to worry about lifetime limits on the coverage.

• 344,000 individuals will not have to worry about to get dropped from insurance policies when they get sick.

• Children would be able to stay in their family health insurance policy till the age of 26 years.

What to look for while buying affordable health plans in Virginia

• Virginians should note what is the maximum coverage level offered in the health insurance plan. This should be the prime deciding factor.

• The second point should be the costs involved in a health plan. This could include premiums, deductibles, copays and coinsurance. Consumers can adjust these costs as per their budget.

• Virginians should make sure, if needed, that the health insurance plan offers prescription drug coverage, doctor visits and hospitalization benefits. There is no need to buy a health plan if it does not offer such coverage benefits given that consumers need them.

• A High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) with a Health Savings Account (HSA) is a very good option to make sure that consumers get affordable health plans. Virginians should check about this.

• Virginians, who need to see a specialist, should make sure that the health insurance plan does not require them to get referrals.

• An affordable health insurance plan should have an easy reimbursement procedure. Virginians should make sure that they do not buy from such companies whose reimbursement process is too much complicated. Such plans could actually waste a lot of money and time.

17. April 2016 · Comments Off on Health Savings Accounts – An American Innovation in Health Insurance · Categories: Health Insurance

INTRODUCTON – The term “health insurance” is commonly used in the United States to describe any program that helps pay for medical expenses, whether through privately purchased insurance, social insurance or a non-insurance social welfare program funded by the government. Synonyms for this usage include “health coverage,” “health care coverage” and “health benefits” and “medical insurance.” In a more technical sense, the term is used to describe any form of insurance that provides protection against injury or illness.

In America, the health insurance industry has changed rapidly during the last few decades. In the 1970’s most people who had health insurance had indemnity insurance. Indemnity insurance is often called fee-forservice. It is the traditional health insurance in which the medical provider (usually a doctor or hospital) is paid a fee for each service provided to the patient covered under the policy. An important category associated with the indemnity plans is that of consumer driven health care (CDHC). Consumer-directed health plans allow individuals and families to have greater control over their health care, including when and how they access care, what types of care they receive and how much they spend on health care services.

These plans are however associated with higher deductibles that the insured have to pay from their pocket before they can claim insurance money. Consumer driven health care plans include Health Reimbursement Plans (HRAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), high deductible health plans (HDHps), Archer Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Of these, the Health Savings Accounts are the most recent and they have witnessed rapid growth during the last decade.

WHAT IS A HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNT?

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged medical savings account available to taxpayers in the United States. The funds contributed to the account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. These may be used to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time without federal tax liability.

Another feature is that the funds contributed to Health Savings Account roll over and accumulate year over year if not spent. These can be withdrawn by the employees at the time of retirement without any tax liabilities. Withdrawals for qualified expenses and interest earned are also not subject to federal income taxes. According to the U.S. Treasury Office, ‘A Health Savings Account is an alternative to traditional health insurance; it is a savings product that offers a different way for consumers to pay for their health care.

HSA’s enable you to pay for current health expenses and save for future qualified medical and retiree health expenses on a tax-free basis.’ Thus the Health Savings Account is an effort to increase the efficiency of the American health care system and to encourage people to be more responsible and prudent towards their health care needs. It falls in the category of consumer driven health care plans.

Origin of Health Savings Account

The Health Savings Account was established under the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act passed by the U.S. Congress in June 2003, by the Senate in July 2003 and signed by President Bush on December 8, 2003.

Eligibility –

The following individuals are eligible to open a Health Savings Account –

– Those who are covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).
– Those not covered by other health insurance plans.
– Those not enrolled in Medicare4.

Also there are no income limits on who may contribute to an HAS and there is no requirement of having earned income to contribute to an HAS. However HAS’s can’t be set up by those who are dependent on someone else’s tax return. Also HSA’s cannot be set up independently by children.

What is a High Deductible Health plan (HDHP)?

Enrollment in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) is a necessary qualification for anyone wishing to open a Health Savings Account. In fact the HDHPs got a boost by the Medicare Modernization Act which introduced the HSAs. A High Deductible Health Plan is a health insurance plan which has a certain deductible threshold. This limit must be crossed before the insured person can claim insurance money. It does not cover first dollar medical expenses. So an individual has to himself pay the initial expenses that are called out-of-pocket costs.

In a number of HDHPs costs of immunization and preventive health care are excluded from the deductible which means that the individual is reimbursed for them. HDHPs can be taken both by individuals (self employed as well as employed) and employers. In 2008, HDHPs are being offered by insurance companies in America with deductibles ranging from a minimum of $1,100 for Self and $2,200 for Self and Family coverage. The maximum amount out-of-pocket limits for HDHPs is $5,600 for self and $11,200 for Self and Family enrollment. These deductible limits are called IRS limits as they are set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In HDHPs the relation between the deductibles and the premium paid by the insured is inversely propotional i.e. higher the deductible, lower the premium and vice versa. The major purported advantages of HDHPs are that they will a) lower health care costs by causing patients to be more cost-conscious, and b) make insurance premiums more affordable for the uninsured. The logic is that when the patients are fully covered (i.e. have health plans with low deductibles), they tend to be less health conscious and also less cost conscious when going for treatment.

Opening a Health Savings Account

An individual can sign up for HSAs with banks, credit unions, insurance companies and other approved companies. However not all insurance companies offer HSAqualified health insurance plans so it is important to use an insurance company that offers this type of qualified insurance plan. The employer may also set up a plan for the employees. However, the account is always owned by the individual. Direct online enrollment in HSA-qualified health insurance is available in all states except Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Contributions to the Health Savings Account

Contributions to HSAs can be made by an individual who owns the account, by an employer or by any other person. When made by the employer, the contribution is not included in the income of the employee. When made by an employee, it is treated as exempted from federal tax. For 2008, the maximum amount that can be contributed (and deducted) to an HSA from all sources is:
$2,900 (self-only coverage)
$5,800 (family coverage)

These limits are set by the U.S. Congress through statutes and they are indexed annually for inflation. For individuals above 55 years of age, there is a special catch up provision that allows them to deposit additional $800 for 2008 and $900 for 2009. The actual maximum amount an individual can contribute also depends on the number of months he is covered by an HDHP (pro-rated basis) as of the first day of a month. For eg If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, then cease having HDHP coverage, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 of $5,800, or $2,900 for 2008. If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, and have self-only HDHP coverage from July 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 x $5,800 plus 6/12 of $2,900, or $4,350 for 2008. If an individual opens an HDHP on the first day of a month, then he can contribute to HSA on the first day itself. However, if he/she opens an account on any other day than the first, then he can contribute to the HSA from the next month onwards. Contributions can be made as late as April 15 of the following year. Contributions to the HSA in excess of the contribution limits must be withdrawn by the individual or be subject to an excise tax. The individual must pay income tax on the excess withdrawn amount.

Contributions by the Employer

The employer can make contributions to the employee’s HAS account under a salary reduction plan known as Section 125 plan. It is also called a cafeteria plan. The contributions made under the cafeteria plan are made on a pre-tax basis i.e. they are excluded from the employee’s income. The employer must make the contribution on a comparable basis. Comparable contributions are contributions to all HSAs of an employer which are 1) the same amount or 2) the same percentage of the annual deductible. However, part time employees who work for less than 30 hours a week can be treated separately. The employer can also categorize employees into those who opt for self coverage only and those who opt for a family coverage. The employer can automatically make contributions to the HSAs on the behalf of the employee unless the employee specifically chooses not to have such contributions by the employer.

Withdrawals from the HSAs

The HSA is owned by the employee and he/she can make qualified expenses from it whenever required. He/She also decides how much to contribute to it, how much to withdraw for qualified expenses, which company will hold the account and what type of investments will be made to grow the account. Another feature is that the funds remain in the account and role over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. The HSA participants do not have to obtain advance approval from their HSA trustee or their medical insurer to withdraw funds, and the funds are not subject to income taxation if made for ‘qualified medical expenses’. Qualified medical expenses include costs for services and items covered by the health plan but subject to cost sharing such as a deductible and coinsurance, or co-payments, as well as many other expenses not covered under medical plans, such as dental, vision and chiropractic care; durable medical equipment such as eyeglasses and hearing aids; and transportation expenses related to medical care. Nonprescription, over-the-counter medications are also eligible. However, qualified medical expense must be incurred on or after the HSA was established.

Tax free distributions can be taken from the HSA for the qualified medical expenses of the person covered by the HDHP, the spouse (even if not covered) of the individual and any dependent (even if not covered) of the individual.12 The HSA account can also be used to pay previous year’s qualified expenses subject to the condition that those expenses were incurred after the HSA was set up. The individual must preserve the receipts for expenses met from the HSA as they may be needed to prove that the withdrawals from the HSA were made for qualified medical expenses and not otherwise used. Also the individual may have to produce the receipts before the insurance company to prove that the deductible limit was met. If a withdrawal is made for unqualified medical expenses, then the amount withdrawn is considered taxable (it is added to the individuals income) and is also subject to an additional 10 percent penalty. Normally the money also cannot be used for paying medical insurance premiums. However, in certain circumstances, exceptions are allowed.

These are –

1) to pay for any health plan coverage while receiving federal or state unemployment benefits.
2) COBRA continuation coverage after leaving employment with a company that offers health insurance coverage.
3) Qualified long-term care insurance.
4) Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, including deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance for: Part A (hospital and inpatient services), Part B (physician and outpatient services), Part C (Medicare HMO and PPO plans) and Part D (prescription drugs).

However, if an individual dies, becomes disabled or reaches the age of 65, then withdrawals from the Health Savings Account are considered exempted from income tax and additional 10 percent penalty irrespective of the purpose for which those withdrawals are made. There are different methods through which funds can be withdrawn from the HSAs. Some HSAs provide account holders with debit cards, some with cheques and some have options for a reimbursement process similar to medical insurance.

Growth of HSAs

Ever since the Health Savings Accounts came into being in January 2004, there has been a phenomenal growth in their numbers. From around 1 million enrollees in March 2005, the number has grown to 6.1 million enrollees in January 2008.14 This represents an increase of 1.6 million since January 2007, 2.9 million since January 2006 and 5.1 million since March 2005. This growth has been visible across all segments. However, the growth in large groups and small groups has been much higher than in the individual category. According to the projections made by the U.S. Treasury Department, the number of HSA policy holders will increase to 14 million by 2010. These 14 million policies will provide cover to 25 to 30 million U.S. citizens.

In the Individual Market, 1.5 million people were covered by HSA/HDHPs purchased as on January 2008. Based on the number of covered lives, 27 percent of newly purchased individual policies (defined as those purchased during the most recent full month or quarter) were enrolled in HSA/HDHP coverage. In the small group market, enrollment stood at 1.8 million as of January 2008. In this group 31 percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category. The large group category had the largest enrollment with 2.8 million enrollees as of January 2008. In this category, six percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category.

Benefits of HSAs

The proponents of HSAs envisage a number of benefits from them. First and foremost it is believed that as they have a high deductible threshold, the insured will be more health conscious. Also they will be more cost conscious. The high deductibles will encourage people to be more careful about their health and health care expenses and will make them shop for bargains and be more vigilant against excesses in the health care industry. This, it is believed, will reduce the growing cost of health care and increase the efficiency of the health care system in the United States. HSA-eligible plans typically provide enrollee decision support tools that include, to some extent, information on the cost of health care services and the quality of health care providers. Experts suggest that reliable information about the cost of particular health care services and the quality of specific health care providers would help enrollees become more actively engaged in making health care purchasing decisions. These tools may be provided by health insurance carriers to all health insurance plan enrollees, but are likely to be more important to enrollees of HSA-eligible plans who have a greater financial incentive to make informed decisions about the quality and costs of health care providers and services.

It is believed that lower premiums associated with HSAs/HDHPs will enable more people to enroll for medical insurance. This will mean that lower income groups who do not have access to medicare will be able to open HSAs. No doubt higher deductibles are associated with HSA eligible HDHPs, but it is estimated that tax savings under HSAs and lower premiums will make them less expensive than other insurance plans. The funds put in the HSA can be rolled over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. This leads to a growth in savings of the account holder. The funds can be accumulated tax free for future medical expenses if the holder so desires. Also the savings in the HSA can be grown through investments.

The nature of such investments is decided by the insured. The earnings on savings in the HSA are also exempt from income tax. The holder can withdraw his savings in the HSA after turning 65 years old without paying any taxes or penalties. The account holder has complete control over his/her account. He/She is the owner of the account right from its inception. A person can withdraw money as and when required without any gatekeeper. Also the owner decides how much to put in his/her account, how much to spend and how much to save for the future. The HSAs are portable in nature. This means that if the holder changes his/her job, becomes unemployed or moves to another location, he/she can still retain the account.

Also if the account holder so desires he can transfer his Health Saving Account from one managing agency to another. Thus portability is an advantage of HSAs. Another advantage is that most HSA plans provide first-dollar coverage for preventive care. This is true of virtually all HSA plans offered by large employers and over 95% of the plans offered by small employers. It was also true of over half (59%) of the plans which were purchased by individuals.

All of the plans offering first-dollar preventive care benefits included annual physicals, immunizations, well-baby and wellchild care, mammograms and Pap tests; 90% included prostate cancer screenings and 80% included colon cancer screenings. Some analysts believe that HSAs are more beneficial for the young and healthy as they do not have to pay frequent out of pocket costs. On the other hand, they have to pay lower premiums for HDHPs which help them meet unforeseen contingencies.

Health Savings Accounts are also advantageous for the employers. The benefits of choosing a health Savings Account over a traditional health insurance plan can directly affect the bottom line of an employer’s benefit budget. For instance Health Savings Accounts are dependent on a high deductible insurance policy, which lowers the premiums of the employee’s plan. Also all contributions to the Health Savings Account are pre-tax, thus lowering the gross payroll and reducing the amount of taxes the employer must pay.

Criticism of HSAs

The opponents of Health Savings Accounts contend that they would do more harm than good to America’s health insurance system. Some consumer organizations, such as Consumers Union, and many medical organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, have rejected HSAs because, in their opinion, they benefit only healthy, younger people and make the health care system more expensive for everyone else. According to Stanford economist Victor Fuchs, “The main effect of putting more of it on the consumer is to reduce the social redistributive element of insurance.

Some others believe that HSAs remove healthy people from the insurance pool and it makes premiums rise for everyone left. HSAs encourage people to look out for themselves more and spread the risk around less. Another concern is that the money people save in HSAs will be inadequate. Some people believe that HSAs do not allow for enough savings to cover costs. Even the person who contributes the maximum and never takes any money out would not be able to cover health care costs in retirement if inflation continues in the health care industry.

Opponents of HSAs, also include distinguished figures like state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who called them a “dangerous prescription” that will destabilize the health insurance marketplace and make things even worse for the uninsured. Another criticism is that they benefit the rich more than the poor. Those who earn more will be able to get bigger tax breaks than those who earn less. Critics point out that higher deductibles along with insurance premiums will take away a large share of the earnings of the low income groups. Also lower income groups will not benefit substantially from tax breaks as they are already paying little or no taxes. On the other hand tax breaks on savings in HSAs and on further income from those HSA savings will cost billions of dollars of tax money to the exchequer.

The Treasury Department has estimated HSAs would cost the government $156 billion over a decade. Critics say that this could rise substantially. Several surveys have been conducted regarding the efficacy of the HSAs and some have found that the account holders are not particularly satisfied with the HSA scheme and many are even ignorant about the working of the HSAs. One such survey conducted in 2007 of American employees by the human resources consulting firm Towers Perrin showed satisfaction with account based health plans (ABHPs) was low. People were not happy with them in general compared with people with more traditional health care. Respondants said they were not comfortable with the risk and did not understand how it works.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, early experience with HAS eligible high-deductible health plans reveals low satisfaction, high out of- pocket costs, and cost-related access problems. Another survey conducted with the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that people enrolled in HSA-eligible high-deductible health plans were much less satisfied with many aspects of their health care than adults in more comprehensive plans People in these plans allocate substantial amounts of income to their health care, especially those who have poorer health or lower incomes. The survey also found that adults in high-deductible health plans are far more likely to delay or avoid getting needed care, or to skip medications, because of the cost. Problems are particularly pronounced among those with poorer health or lower incomes.

Political leaders have also been vocal about their criticism of the HSAs. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. issued the following statement criticizing the HSAs “The President’s health care plan is not about covering the uninsured, making health insurance affordable, or even driving down the cost of health care. Its real purpose is to make it easier for businesses to dump their health insurance burden onto workers, give tax breaks to the wealthy, and boost the profits of banks and financial brokers. The health care policies concocted at the behest of special interests do nothing to help the average American. In many cases, they can make health care even more inaccessible.” In fact a report of the U.S. governments Accountability office, published on April 1, 2008 says that the rate of enrollment in the HSAs is greater for higher income individuals than for lower income ones.

A study titled “Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans: Are They an Option for Low-Income Families? By Catherine Hoffman and Jennifer Tolbert which was sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported the following key findings regarding the HSAs:

a) Premiums for HSA-qualified health plans may be lower than for traditional insurance, but these plans shift more of the financial risk to individuals and families through higher deductibles.
b) Premiums and out-of-pocket costs for HSA-qualified health plans would consume a substantial portion of a low-income family’s budget.
c) Most low-income individuals and families do not face high enough tax liability to benefit in a significant way from tax deductions associated with HSAs.
d) People with chronic conditions, disabilities, and others with high cost medical needs may face even greater out-of-pocket costs under HSA-qualified health plans.
e) Cost-sharing reduces the use of health care, especially primary and preventive services, and low-income individuals and those who are sicker are particularly sensitive to cost-sharing increases.
f) Health savings accounts and high deductible plans are unlikely to substantially increase health insurance coverage among the uninsured.

Choosing a Health Plan

Despite the advantages offered by the HSA, it may not be suitable for everyone. While choosing an insurance plan, an individual must consider the following factors:

1. The premiums to be paid.
2. Coverage/benefits available under the scheme.
3. Various exclusions and limitations.
4. Portability.
5. Out-of-pocket costs like coinsurance, co-pays, and deductibles.
6. Access to doctors, hospitals, and other providers.
7. How much and sometimes how one pays for care.
8. Any existing health issue or physical disability.
9. Type of tax savings available.

The plan you choose should according to your requirements and financial ability.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1 Questions and Answers about Health Insurance- A Consumer Guide’ published jointly by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)
2 http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_savings_account
3 2002 AHIP Survey of Health Insurance Plans
4 “How High Is Too High? Implications of High-Deductible Health Plans” Davis, Karen; Michelle Doty and Alice Ho. The Commonwealth Fund, April 2005
5 http://www.fdhc.state.fl.us/schs/pdf/hsa_tri-fold_brochure.pdf
6 HSA/HDHP CENSUS 2008 by Hannah Yoo, Center for Policy and Research, America’s Health Insurance Plans
7″HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNTS Early Enrollee Experiences with Accounts and Eligible Health Plans” John E. Dicken Director, Health Care.
8 Thomas Wilder and Hannah Yoo, “A Survey of Preventive Benefits in Health Savings Account (HSA)Plans, July 2007,” America’s Health Insurance Plans, November 2007
9 Gladwell, Malcolm, “The Moral Hazard Myth”, The New Yorker (29-08-2005)
10 2008 Benchmark Survey HAS Bank
11. Employer Health Benefits 2007 Annual Survey, Kaiser Family Foundation
12. Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans: Are They An Option for Low-Income Families?Catherine Hoffman and Jennifer Tolbert for Kaiser Family Foundation, October 2006
13. Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003

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