Congress Already Agrees on Expanding HSAs - It Simply Needs to Act

by Joel White

The 115th Congress is remembered for the rancorous debate over Obamacare, but that doesn’t tell the full story.

Congress came together more than once over the last year on commonsense enhancements to a bipartisan well-working part of our healthcare system: Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). This year, they should pick up where they left off.

As part of the Congressional staff team that worked with lawmakers to write the 2003 law creating HSAs, I know these market-driven tools offer an effective way to plan and save for health costs. Turns out, more than three-fourths of the 21 million Americans who enjoy the benefits of an HSA agree.

The Council for Affordable Health Coverage (CAHC) – where I am honored to serve as president – has helped shepherd the introduction and bipartisan House passage of solutions to improve HSA usability, including 2018’s H.R. 6311 which raises the contribution limit for HSAs and expands the type of health plans deemed HSA-eligible.

We also advocated for House passage of H.R. 6199 – legislation reversing Obamacare’s ban on HSA use for the purchase of over-the-counter drugs – with the support of a whopping 46 House Democrats and the backing of staunch Obamacare supporters like my friend Sally Greenberg of the National Consumers League.

Despite a strong vote of confidence in the House, these measures to improve healthcare affordability and access for millions of Americans flatlined with the start of the new Congress.

With consumers paying more and more of their own medical expenses through rising deductibles, coinsurance, and copays, we at CAHC are redoubling our commitment to getting these ideas across the finish line in 2019.

As Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) plots a bipartisan health reform package, we’ve asked him directly to include these and other HSA expansion measures as part of any solution that clears his committee.

This includes reforms that would allow excess Obamacare subsidies to be applied toward an HSA – something the Trump administration, at our behest, may enact unilaterally – and measures allowing HSA plans to provide first-dollar coverage for targeted treatments and preventive services for those facing chronic diseases.

As we explain in our letter to the Chairman, “putting health funds directly in the hands of consumers, would empower consumers to make better decisions, generate competition and promote good stewardship.”

In the effort to lower healthcare costs for every American, strengthening HSAs is a critical step in the right direction that has earned bipartisan support before and deserves Congress’s seal of approval once again.

Joel White is the President of the Council for Affordable Health Coverage. Learn more at CAHC.net.