NU Online News Service, June 21, 2004, 5:29 pm. EDT

The Assurant Health unit at Assurant Inc., New York, says consumer interest in the new health savings accounts seems to be strong.[@@]

The company has received 56,396 applications from people interested in individual HSA accounts, and 43% of the applicants appear to have no other health coverage, Assurant executives reported today at an HSA market briefing in Chicago.

President Bush brought HSAs to life Dec. 8, 2003, when he signed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003. One MPDIMA section lets eligible taxpayers who buy high-deductible health insurance policies exclude HSA contributions from taxable income and spend HSA cash on qualified expenses without paying income taxes on the distributions.

The HSA program lets employers and employees contribute up to $2,600 in pre-tax dollars to accounts for individuals and up to $5,150 in pre-tax dollars for families.

Critics have argued that HSAs would appeal mainly to young, healthy, affluent taxpayers and not to people who have serious problems with getting and paying for health coverage.

Assurant reported at the HSA briefing that 29% of its HSA customers have annual family incomes of less than $50,000 and that 19% have annual family incomes of less than $40,000.