As the pandemic lingers, contributing to rising inflation and the impending economic recession, Americans of all walks of life may be concerned about their medical bills.
The Healthcare Freedom Act, proposed by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), aims to help Americans regain control of their health care spending by creating “health freedom accounts” similar to existing health savings accounts. Health savings accounts allow patients to save pre-tax money for future medical expenses, but are limited to those with high-deductible health plans and contain many restrictions on the types of medical expenses. health who may be eligible. Roy’s bill would allow any American, regardless of health insurance type, to become eligible for Health Freedom Accounts, as well as expand the list of eligible medical expenses.
As a physician, I call on Congress to pass this legislation to give patients greater autonomy over their health care.
Health savings accounts were first introduced in 2003 as part of the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act and have become more prevalent as more employers began offering retirement plans. high-deductible healthcare for the past 20 years. Many patients with high-deductible plans never meet their annual deductible and are therefore forced to rely on money from their health savings account to cover day-to-day healthcare expenses; for these people, any money spent on insurance premiums by themselves or their employer is wasted. To make matters worse, current regulations also prohibit the use of health savings accounts to pay insurance premiums. These policies only serve to enrich the insurance companies at the expense of patients and private employers.
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Currently, HSAs allow maximum family contributions of up to $7,300 per year to a tax-deductible account, allowing contributions to be tax-free for that year. Plus, the money grows tax-free and can be withdrawn from the account tax-free. These tax protection mechanisms are behind the designation of HSAs by the coveted descriptor “triple tax exemption”. In addition to allowing all Americans to get an HSA/HFA, the Healthcare Freedom Act would nearly double the annual contribution limit to $12,000 and allow people age 55 or older to contribute an additional $5,000. These changes are necessary because of the rapid increase in health care costs which regularly exceeds the already astronomical rate of inflation.
The Freedom of Health Care Act would also expand the list of approved medical expenses to include insurance premiums, direct subscriptions to primary care physicians and payment to shared health care departments. The bill would allow HSA money to be spent on all of these services, as well as additional services that might not be covered by health insurance. For example, patients who go to dermatology clinics can use their HSA/HFA money to pay for the removal of minor skin lesions or other procedures considered “cosmetic” by insurance companies. On the physician side, this allows for a wider range of practice opportunities that would allow physicians to practice more personalized medicine.
If HFAs become commonplace, more patients will be able to obtain their medications through compounding and specialty pharmacies, eliminating middlemen and reducing costs. Indeed, physicians will be able to circumvent insurance headaches such as step therapy (requiring patients to fail certain categories of drugs before insurance covers alternative therapies) if patients can directly pay for their medications. As a dermatologist, I frequently use pharmacy direct to help patients get personalized treatments for their skin.
Healthcare freedom accounts would expand access to these services to patient populations who may not have the financial capacity to pay for these treatments out of pocket. Employers may also appreciate the added flexibility of HFAs, as they would be able to offer the new Health Savings Account as a benefit without being required to enroll in a high-deductible group health plan.
Increasing the number of approved expenditures would have the net effect of increasing patient and physician autonomy. On the patient side, the Freedom of Healthcare Act allows them to spend their hard-earned savings in a way that best aligns with their values.
As a physician, I look forward to serving patients based on the ideals of the Hippocratic Oath rather than following arbitrary guidelines created by insurance companies.
Aamir Hussain is a resident physician practicing in Washington, DC. Rufus Sweeney, a medical student at the University of Wisconsin, helped create this story.
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