Seniors deserve access to Health Savings Accounts

Health care is still the top priority for voters in America, according to a recent poll by Luntz Global. Of all the issues facing America today, 45 percent of those polled said they are most concerned about health care, with immigration a distant second (25 percent).

An overwhelming number of those polled (82 percent) believed that seniors on Medicare should be able to keep contributing to their Health Savings Account if they already have one. In addition, 82 percent say seniors on Medicare should have the option to purchase a Health Savings Account if they want one. 

The Health Savings for Seniors Act recently introduced by Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) allows them to do just that.

As the presidential candidates continue to make the case for sweeping health-care changes, Americans should know about this important bipartisan proposal. The legislation moving through the House would serve as a strong supplement to Medicare and offer a commonsense health-care boost for our seniors. This is a different approach than Medicare for All, the public option or Medicare buy-in that will help some of our most vulnerable citizens.

The Health Savings for Seniors Act affirms our nation’s commitment to the health of seniors by allowing those covered by Medicare to continue to contribute to or open a new Health Savings Accounts.

Through this legislation, Reps. Bera and Smith are showing a commitment to the health and wellbeing of all Americans, particularly seniors. Unfortunately, seniors covered by Medicare are not allowed to establish or continue contributing to their Health Savings, an important tax-free savings account that helps reduce out-of-pocket costs while increasing efficiency in the health-care system.

One of the most useful features of a Health Savings Account is that there is no use-it-or-lose-it component. Almost half of those polled (46 percent) like knowing the money stays in their account, year after year, until they need it. 

Having a Health Savings Account is a powerful resource that reimburses everything from doctor and dentist visits to prescription drugs, first aid supplies, and eyeglasses. 

Health Savings Accounts also incentivize saving for health-care expenses by providing critical tax benefits, just as we do for saving for retirement or college. These tax benefits have become even more important as deductibles and other health-care costs continue to skyrocket. 

Families nationwide are struggling with high deductibles and gaps in coverage, and seniors face these challenges and more under Medicare. Deductibles can be close to $2,000 combined, and other out-of-pocket costs in Medicare are often not a flat co-pay but a percentage of the charges, which makes it difficult to budget and plan ahead.

For seniors on a fixed income, these high and uncertain costs can be the difference between a dignified retirement and choosing between health care and food or housing. Additionally, traditional Medicare does not cover certain important services, such as dental and vision care and hearing aids. Health Savings Accounts can help those on Medicare stay healthier and more active in their communities.

Seniors deserve access to the health care they have worked their whole lives to secure and Congress should expand Health Savings Accounts to help them do that. Health care is not a one-size-fits-all system, and saving and paying for health-care expenses shouldn’t be either.

Health Savings Accounts are one tool in the vast toolbox to improve health care in the United States. This is just one tree in the large forest, but it would provide meaningful coverage for seniors who deserve it. 

Kevin McKechnie is executive director of the American Bankers Association’s Health Savings Accounts Council. 

Tags Ami Bera Health savings accounts Jason Smith

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