NU Online News Service, Feb. 17, 2005, 3:01 p.m. EST

A Hartford health insurer says more customers are signing up for programs that offer access to personal health accounts.[@@]

The insurer, Aetna Inc., says it ended 2004 with 370,000 consumers enrolled in Aetna HealthFund plans. The number of enrollees has “more than doubled” since the end of 2003, the company says.

The HealthFund plan program gives members access to health reimbursement arrangements, health savings accounts and other forms of personal health accounts.

In most cases, employers or individual buyers combine the accounts with high-deductible health insurance. Members hold down the cost of the health insurance by using the accounts to cover the cost of routine care.

This year, Aetna is adding a debit card payment system for account holders, and it also is setting up a program to manage HSA accounts. In the past, Aetna provided high-deductible health coverage for small employers and individuals with HSAs, but it required small employers and individuals to go to other companies for HSA custody services.

Aetna has been providing HSA custody services for large employers since June 1, 2004.

Aetna says it will talk about “long-term investment options” for HSAs sometime between April 1 and June 30.

Some insurers are starting to offer mutual funds or similar arrangements to HSA holders interested in long-term investment options.