Two decades ago Congress enabled Americans to open tax-favored health savings accounts (HSAs) in conjunction with qualifying high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). This HSA tax break is regressive: Higher-income Americans are more likely to have HSAs and fund them at higher levels. Proponents, however, have argued that this regressivity is offset by reductions in wasteful health care spending because consumers with HDHPs are more cost-conscious in their use of care. Using published sources and our own analysis of National Health Interview Survey data, we argue that HSAs no longer appreciably achieve this cost-consciousness aim because cost sharing has increased so much in non-HSA-qualified plans. Indeed, people who have HDHPs with HSAs are becoming less likely than others with private insurance to report financial barriers to care. In sum, promised gains in efficiency from HSAs have not borne out, so it is difficult to justify maintaining this regressive tax break.
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