- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association said yesterday that it will have health savings accounts available nationwide by 2006.

The national health insurer, which has about 91 million members, started offering some forms of health savings accounts in January in a number of states. Blue Cross’ affiliates in 39 states, including Maryland and Virginia, now offer some form of the accounts.

By the end of next year, Blue Cross will offer health savings accounts, also known as HSAs, in 49 states and the District, said Alissa Fox, Blue Cross policy executive director, yesterday.

“HSAs are one more way of keeping health care as affordable as possible,” Ms. Fox said.

The announcement follows one by the Oakland, Calif., health insurance company Kaiser Permanente earlier this week that the company will offer health savings accounts starting in January.

Insurance companies began offering some form of health savings accounts at the beginning of this year. About 70 companies offer the plans nationwide, with more planning to have them for next year’s insurance enrollment period.

Eleven companies in the District, 20 in Virginia and 11 in Maryland offer some form of health savings accounts, according to HSAInsider.com, a Web site that tracks such information.

Health savings accounts were authorized in 2003 as part of the Medicare Modernization Act. They allow members to set aside amounts from $1,000 up to $5,150 that can be used to pay medical expenses.

These tax-free plans have a high-deductible insurance policy that covers large hospital bills.

The investment, or retirement, part of the account allows employees, and even employers, to contribute pre-tax dollars.

Employees can pay for medical expenses from the account tax-free or let the money build up until retirement, while accruing tax-free interest.

Health savings plans are broken down into ones for individuals, small groups and large groups.

Blue Cross is hoping to lure a significant portion of the nation’s 45 million uninsured to invest in the health savings accounts, which allow an employee to keep the account after changing jobs, Ms. Fox said.

About 60 percent of those uninsured work for small businesses, which have increasingly dropped health insurance coverage because of high premiums.

Carefirst Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Owings Mills, Md., affiliate of Blue Cross, has a high-deductible plan for individuals that qualifies as a health savings plan. But the company has not yet enrolled any members, said Cindy Otley, Carefirst’s product director.

The company, with 3.2 million members, will start offering its health savings account products early next year, Ms. Otley said, adding that two large companies already have enrolled for the group plans. She would not identify the companies.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Virginia, the Richmond affiliate of Blue Cross, also will begin its main health savings account program next year.

The company, with more than 2 million members in Virginia, started providing health savings accounts for small and large groups in October. Anthem has 36 groups signed up and 85 persons enrolled in a health saving account.

Annual deductibles for the accounts range from $1,200 for individuals to $2,400 for families, said Anthem spokesman Scott Golden.

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