House passes Paulsen measure to improve, expand health savings accounts

The House of Representatives recently approved health care legislation designed to restore patients’ access to over-the-counter medication through medical savings accounts, while also helping Americans save health care dollars by improving access to these types of accounts.

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ (R-KS) Restoring Access to Medication Act of 2016, H.R. 1270, passed the House on July 6. It aims to repeal onerous regulations in the Affordable Care Act and put patients back in control of their own health care.

U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) authored a provision in that piece of legislation, the Health Care Security Act of 2016, which would expand access to health savings accounts (HSAs).

“The bottom line is that these are consumer directed accounts and we want people to make sure that health care savings accounts can be used for a wide variety of health care expenses,” Paulsen, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a recent interview with the Ripon Advance.

HSAs provide users with opportunities to save for medical expenses through tax-deductible contributions. By increasing contribution limits and allowing greater flexibility and more choices on what HSAs can be used for, individuals and families would save money and bridge the gap that they have with higher deductible plans, Paulsen said.

One provision of the bill authored by Paulsen would allow HSA-eligible individuals to contribute an amount equal to the combined annual limit on out-of-pocket and deductible expenses under their HSA-qualified insurance plan. The bill also would allow spouses who are HSA eligible and 55 years of age or older to deposit catch-up contributions into the same account instead of the current requirement that each spouse needs a separate HSA account.

Additionally, the bill would make a special rule allowing for certain medical expenses that were incurred before the establishment of an HSA.

H.R. 1270 that was passed by the full House contained three provisions that had previously been approved by the Ways and Means Committee. Its third provision was also sponsored by Jenkins, and would amend the tax code in order to protect taxpayers by recovering improper Obamacare subsidy overpayments.

Paulsen said he has supported expanding health care savings accounts for active military personnel, for seniors on Medicare and for Native Americans – reforms that some other members of Congress have sponsored. The House passed U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar’s (R-MI) Native Americans Health Savings Improvement Act, H.R. 5452, in June to improve access to HSAs for Native Americans who receive services at Indian Health Service facilities.

Paulsen said that a health care policy agenda recently unveiled by House Republicans also includes an expansion of HSAs as part of its plan to replace Obamacare. Much of the House Republican plan aligns with Paulsen’s long-held views on health care reform.

“The new health care law is designed to be a one-size-fits-all, out of Washington plan for everyone’s health care, and the better way is to remove unnecessary taxes and mandates and regulations that actually drive up costs and reduce health care quality,” Paulsen said. “So the blueprint is about promoting more choice and more competition to help individuals and employers access the most affordable and the highest quality health care options.”

The blueprint also includes a total repeal of the medical device tax, Paulsen said. At the end of 2015, the medical devise excise tax of 2.3 percent on manufacturers was suspended for two years, after having been enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Paulsen, who is the co-chair of the Congressional Medical Technology Caucus, said that he would like to see a permanent repeal of the medical device tax. He said that there has been “great feedback” from manufacturers of medical devices about how suspending the tax has spurred innovation, reinvestment and hiring, ultimately serving to help patients with technology that improves or saves lives.

As for the prospects for the health care legislation in the Senate, Paulsen is confident that the Senate will act before the end of the year.

Paulsen and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced the Health Savings Act of 2016, H.R. 4469, in February.

“Having the finance chair behind the legislation improves the likelihood of getting something through before the end of the year,” Paulsen said. “We’re looking for those common sense provisions and bipartisan support in the House and Senate.”

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