Health savings account assets could grow dramatically over the next 5 years.[@@]

Researchers at Celent Communications, Boston, a market research firm, make that prediction in a new 32-page review of the HSA market.

U.S. residents probably hold about 740,000 HSAs today with an average of $1,100 in assets, for an overall HSA asset total of $811 million, the researchers estimate.

If monthly contributions start at an average of $110 per account holder in 2006, increase 4% each year, and earn an annual return of 2% from 2006 to 2009 and of 4% starting in 2010, HSA holdings should increase to $62 billion between 2006 and 2011, the researchers predict.

In that scenario, the average HSA balance would rise to $4,100, the Celent researchers estimate.

But for traditional health insurers, selling HSA-compatible high-deductible plans is a double-edged sword, the researchers add.

“For some, the potential loss of high-premium revenue and the unknowns of dealing with a new type of customer and complex relationship structure have kept them from actively embracing the product,” the Celent researchers write. “Many are merely testing the market.”

In the long run, if HSAs work out, banks and other account providers could end up taking a significant share of the revenue now going to insurers, the researchers predict.