Bush Touts Expansion of HSAs
President Bush "showcased" his proposal to expand use of tax-free health savings accounts during a forum with local business leaders on Wednesday in Bridgeport, Conn., the Washington Post reports. The 2003 Medicare law includes a provision allowing U.S. residents to establish HSAs in combination with high-deductible insurance policies (Baker, Washington Post, 4/6).
Currently, individuals can put enough money in their HSAs to cover annual deductibles. Bush is hoping to raise the maximum amount to allow individuals to cover all medical costs, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Reichmann, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 4/5).
During the forum, which included a panel of five executives and consumers selected by the White House who gave testimonials about HSAs, Bush said consumers who use HSAs are more likely to shop around for care, helping to drive down prices (Pazniokas, Hartford Courant, 4/6). He noted, "Health savings accounts really mean that the individual owns and controls their health care. Health savings accounts enable somebody to say, 'Look, if I make the right decisions about smoking and drinking or exercising that I'll end up saving money'" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 4/5).
Bush added, "The benefit for society as a whole is this helps control costs and helps make health care more available and affordable" (Washington Post, 4/6).
A consumer speaking at the forum said HSAs are easy to use and allow individuals to "call up different people and get the best price for your money, without compromising quality."
A small business owner added that HSAs helped her maintain coverage for her employees (Rutenberg, New York Times, 4/6).
Christopher Bruhl -- president of the Business Council of Fairfield County, which hosted the forum -- said, "I don't think anyone would suggest [the HSAs proposal] is the answer, not even the president. It is a piece" (Hartford Courant, 4/6).
According to the Times, congressional Democrats "jumped on the visit," reiterating statements that HSAs favor the wealthy and could discourage people from seeing doctors.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said, "It's wealth care, not health care" (New York Times, 4/6).
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), said HSAs are not helping to reduce the number of uninsured U.S. residents. She noted that studies have shown many businesses offering HSAs already provide health insurance to employees and only 12% of individuals with high-deductible policies eligible for HSAs previously were uninsured (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 4/5).
Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, said HSAs "may be a good idea for a narrow set of people who are healthy and who are lucky enough to stay that way and have thousands of dollars in the bank they can use for health care." However, she added that the deductibles and fees are too high for most low-income individuals.
John Olsen, head of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said, "We can't save anything as it is. We are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have a nationalized health care system" (Christoffersen, AP/Hartford Courant, 4/5).