3:13 pm - Tuesday December 18, 5404

ObamaCare Embraces Health Savings Accounts

Despite getting clobbered in the fiscal cliff negotiations,
Republicans have something to celebrate this year — the survival of
health savings accounts, or HSAs. They had feared that President Obama
would obliterate this critical cost-saving tool.

Sure, the president had promised that ObamaCare would not bar
HSA-qualified plans from health insurance exchanges. But we had our
doubts.

Fortunately, we were wrong.

A new regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services
should put Republican fears to rest. Issued in November, the
Department’s proposed Actuarial Value Calculator has been tested and
re-tested. Republicans and HSA experts can conclude only one thing
from this mathematical tool: ObamaCare is safe for HSAs.

HSAs are accounts that allow the owners of high-deductible health
insurance plans to save tax-free for medical expenses. HSA-qualified
plans offer low monthly premiums, which has made them the
fastest-growing type of health plan in United States for the past four
years. If initial results from private health exchanges operating in
Minnesota are any indication, more than half of insurance buyers want
an HSA-qualified plan.

Republicans have lauded HSAs for years, both as a way to bring choice
and savings to individual consumers, and as a method for keeping
overall health care expenses from spiraling out of control.

The White House and Department of Health and Human Services appear to
have also concluded, rightly, that for the health exchanges to work,
the option to choose low-cost, HSA-qualified health plans must be
preserved.

No one has been more caught off guard by this conclusion than
primed-for-battle political operatives like myself. In fact, the
proposed health care regulations embodied in the Actuarial Value
Calculator are so fair and reasonable that much of the Republican
health care policy apparatus has been stunned into silence — perhaps
accounting for how little we’ve heard about the new regulation.

Literally, with one draft rule, and indications that other draft rules
will also permit HSAs, the Department has silenced a huge chorus of
Republican critics of the President’s health care plan. On Capitol
Hill, health care aides to Republican Senators and Congressmen are
asking, “what do we say now?” You can hear the delete button being
pressed on whole paragraphs of stump speeches pounding ObamaCare.

In a Washington, D.C., board meeting a few weeks ago, I heard this HHS
rule being described as “the best Jedi mind trick, ever.”

Assuming the rules don’t change, the implications are enormous. Inside
the beltway, it means a new era of détente has broken out in at least
one corner of the health care wars. Republicans can say that one of
their signature health care policies has been preserved under
ObamaCare. Democrats can point out that the President kept his
promise.

More important is what happens outside the beltway. Across America,
current HSA owners will get to keep the plans they have. HSA-qualified
plans will remain the least-expensive type of health insurance policy
on the market. And Americans will have more health care choices than
we thought they would.

It’s not often in Washington that we get to say “everybody wins,” but
this is that rare occasion.

Dan Perrin is Executive Director of the HSA Coalition.

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