NU Online News Service, Aug. 12, 2004, 3:50 p.m. EDT

More than 7 out of 10 Americans with private health insurance have a favorable opinion of healthcare savings accounts, a new study finds.

The study by America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, found the positive reaction cut across political and ideological lines.

HSAs were created by the Congress last year as a part of the Medicare Modernization Act. They combine individual savings accounts with traditional major medical insurance, allowing individuals to use tax-free funds to pay medical bills and save for future health care costs.

“Although HSAs are still in the earliest stages of development, many consumers clearly indicate this new approach offers new opportunities that they will closely consider,” says AHIP president and chief executive Karen Ignagni.

The new law requires HSAs to be established in combination with insurance coverage through a qualifying high-deductible health plan.

Federal regulations announced last week allowed plans to offer preventive care and disease prevention programs without counting their costs toward deductible requirements of the legislation.

Ignagni says the survey shows many consumers lack detailed information about how these new plans actually work. However, once people have information about HSAs, they generally react positively to the opportunity to play a more active role in seeking health care coverage, she adds.

The survey found that 42% of consumers say they are familiar with HSA style accounts, while 39% are not all familiar with them. But when given a description of an HSA plan, 71% reacted favorably, while 22% reacted unfavorably, AHIP says.

The approach was viewed favorably by 75% of Republicans and self-described conservatives interviewed, as well as by 67% of Democrats and 62% of self-described liberals surveyed, AHIP says.