In Elder Law News

Pink piggy bank on a wooden table with a red heart figurine and stethoscope.A health savings account may help you save money on medical expenses, depending on your insurance type. If you are eligible, you can use your health savings account (HSA) to cover certain medical costs, according to HealthCare.gov.

How Does an HSA Work?

If you have a high deductible health plan, you can contribute to an HSA and use the untaxed money to cover medical costs, decreasing your total medical expenses.

High deductible health plans typically have lower monthly premiums than other insurance plans. However, individuals may pay more for medical services before coverage starts, per HealthCare.gov.

What Do Health Savings Accounts Cover?

You can use an HSA to pay for deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance.

Examples of typical expenses for which you can use a health savings account include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Ambulance costs
  • Doctor visits
  • Hearing aids
  • Medications
  • Psychiatric care and psychological therapy
  • Certain long-term care services

However, you generally cannot use money from an HSA for monthly insurance premiums, unless you receive Medicare, health care continuation coverage, or unemployment compensation.

For long-term care insurance, you may be able to pay your premiums through a health savings account.

The Benefits of Health Savings Accounts

The advantage of using a health savings account is that funds are not subject to federal taxes when you contribute or withdraw money to pay for qualified medical expenses. You can also earn tax-free interest.

Should you have money left over in your account at the end of the year, it rolls over. The funds stay active, remaining in your account until you need them. Even if you change jobs or retire, you can keep your HSA.

In some cases, you can use your health savings account to cover your spouse’s and dependents’ medical expenses, even if they are not on your plan.

Health Savings Account Rules

2023 Contribution Amounts

The Internal Revenue Service sets contribution limits on HSA’s.

  • For 2023, individuals can contribute up to $3,850, and families can put up to $7,300 into a health savings account, Investopedia reports.
  • People who are 55 and older by the end of the tax year can make an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution.

Other Insurance Types

Other insurance plans can disqualify you from contributing funds to an HSA.

  • Individuals with dollar-first insurance plans – in which the insurer takes care of its share of an included service before the insured individual pays deductibles or copayments – cannot put funds into a health savings account for their outstanding health care fees.
  • Those on Medicare cannot add money to health savings accounts, though they can withdraw capital from their accounts to pay medical expenses that Medicare does not cover. While people using health savings accounts typically cannot use the funds to cover monthly premiums, there is an exception for Medicare beneficiaries.

Penalties

Although health savings accounts have several advantages, they also impose restrictions on how you use your money.

Taking money from your account for nonmedical or unqualified expenses before you reach 65 results in a 20 percent tax penalty. The 20 percent tax penalty for ineligible withdrawals does not apply if you are 65 and older. Still, you must pay income tax.

Opening a Health Savings Account

There are several ways to open an HSA.

  • Employers can offer them, with the employer and the employee jointly funding the account.
  • Some health insurance companies provide health savings accounts with high deductible health plans.
  • Banks and financial institutions offer accounts for individuals.

How Does Medicare Affect Your Health Savings Account?

When you enroll in Medicare, you can no longer contribute pre-tax dollars to your health savings account. To put untaxed money in an HSA, you must have high deductible health insurance without additional disqualifying coverage, such as Medicare. Once you have Medicare, you can no longer add tax-free funds to your account.

After you enroll in Medicare, however, you can still access your health savings account. One of the advantages of health savings accounts is that they are vested. As a Medicare beneficiary, you can continue using untaxed funds to cover the medical expenses your insurance does not bear, such as deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments. You cannot, however, use tax-free money to pay for Medicare supplemental insurance.

While the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) prohibits people from using untaxed capital for high deductible health insurance plan premiums, the rule differs for Medicare. When you enroll, you can use your HSA to pay your Medicare premiums without taxes.

Withdrawing Money From Your HSA

People over 65 can withdraw funds from their health savings accounts for nonmedical expenses. Although these withdrawals are no longer tax-free, older adults do not incur the 20 percent tax penalty the IRS imposes on younger people taking funds HSA’s for ineligible expenses.

Since medical costs tend to increase with age, many prefer to keep their money in their health savings accounts to cover eligible medical expenses tax-free.

Delaying Medicare Enrollment

Some people with health savings accounts enroll in Medicare when they initially become eligible, forfeiting the ability to make HSA deposits for Medicare’s coverage. Others delay enrollment in order to continue making health savings account contributions.

  • According to the Journal of Accountancy, only individuals with employer-sponsored high deductible health insurance as their primary coverage can continue adding to their health savings accounts past retirement age by delaying Medicare enrollment.

    Individuals with private insurance, continuation of health coverage (COBRA), or a health care exchange cannot fund their HSA’s after reaching retirement age.
     

  • People who continue to work at small companies after becoming eligible for Medicare must enroll in the program immediately to have any health insurance coverage.

    Per MedicareInteractive.org, Medicare must be the primary insurance for those working at companies with fewer than 20 employees. Since the small employer’s health plan does not have to pay until after Medicare contributes, these individuals risk losing health coverage if they delay enrolling in Medicare. Deferment also results in a late penalty.
     

  • Those with health insurance from businesses with 20 or more employees can put off Medicare enrollment and continue placing funds into their health savings accounts. Because the company insurance would remain the primary insurer when they join Medicare, they can continue receiving health insurance coverage without Medicare.

Individuals who wish to delay enrolling in Medicare should not accept Social Security payments. This is because Social Security automatically registers beneficiaries for Medicare Part A, rendering them unable to make HSA deposits.

Medicare and the IRS recommend that people who have delayed enrollment after becoming eligible should cease health savings account contributions six months before joining Medicare to avoid a tax penalty. A six-month lookback period applies, as Medicare’s coverage is retroactive.

If you have an HSA, whether you should delay Medicare enrollment depends on your situation. The decision could significantly impact your finances. Speak to an elder law attorney near you to learn more about your options for your health savings account as you approach retirement age.

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