More employers are offering a combination of high-deductible health coverage and a health savings account (HSA) as a group health coverage option — or the only group health coverage option — for 2012.

How can consumers decide whether HSA programs are right for them?

Shefali S. Kulkarni, a staff writer at Kaiser Health News, explains for a general audience that an HSA is a atax-preferred savings account where money is set aside by the consumer, and possibly by the employer, to pay for medical expenses and prescription drugs.

“Consumers who participate in HSAs receive certain tax benefits,” Kulkarni writes. “For instance, individual contributions are tax deductible, and employer contributions also are not counted as taxable income. Account withdrawals, when used to pay for qualified medical expenses, also are not taxed.”

HSA programs also can help cut employers’ costs, Kulkarni says.

But the programs could be especially burdensome for low-income people with conditions such as diabetes who know they will be needing ongoing care, Kulkarni says.

Kulkarni quotes Deborah Chollet, a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research Center, as suggesting that the biggest beneficiaries of HSA programs tend to be young, healthy males who rarely see the doctor.

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-alb