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Time to End Health Savings Accounts: Regressive & Ineffective

Summary: Health savings accounts (HSAs) paired with deductibles are regressive: they yield financial gains mostly for healthy individuals with high income. They are justified as reducing health care costs, but these benefits are minimal. Now that large deductibles are widespread, any pretense of HSA cost-control is gone. When will we end this tax break for the rich?

Health Savings Accounts No Longer Promote Consumer Cost-Consciousness
Health Affairs
June 2022
By Sherry A. Glied, Dahlia K. Remler, and Mikaela Springsteen

Abstract

Two decades ago Congress enabled Americans to open tax-favored health savings accounts (HSAs) in conjunction with qualifying high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). This HSA tax break is regressive: Higher-income Americans are more likely to have HSAs and fund them at higher levels. Proponents, however, have argued that this regressivity is offset by reductions in wasteful health care spending because consumers with HDHPs are more cost-conscious in their use of care. Using published sources and our own analysis of National Health Interview Survey data, we argue that HSAs no longer appreciably achieve this cost-consciousness aim because cost sharing has increased so much in non-HSA-qualified plans. Indeed, people who have HDHPs with HSAs are becoming less likely than others with private insurance to report financial barriers to care. In sum, promised gains in efficiency from HSAs have not borne out, so it is difficult to justify maintaining this regressive tax break.

Comment by: Don McCanne

After two decades, conservatives are still promoting health savings accounts, in spite of their pronounced regressivity. We have long needed policies that assist lower income individuals, yet health savings accounts and their associated high deductible health plans have failed to protect those with more modest incomes. Only a well-designed single payer Medicare for All system would. So why on earth does support for this unsuccessful policy persist when it works to the detriment of the poor but not the wealthy?

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