Companies behind HSAs could bank on big profits

Republican plan so far boosts a provider, bank

Chart of health savings account assets. Tribune News Service 2017
Chart of health savings account assets. Tribune News Service 2017

Health savings accounts are poised for a major expansion by Republicans in Washington, D.C., and that could mean millions more customers — and fees — flowing to a handful of companies.

Investors are betting on it, bidding up shares of HSA provider HealthEquity by about 35 percent since the November election. It’s one of the best performing stocks on Wall Street since Donald Trump won the White House.

Another big beneficiary might be Optum Bank, the industry leader, with more than three million of these accounts and about $7 billion in assets it manages for consumers. It’s owned by the nation’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group.

For years, these companies and others have been lobbying lawmakers for changes that could become reality with a Republican-controlled Congress and Trump administration.

The GOP health law replacement plan introduced last week in the House reflects the party’s broad consensus for giving more Americans access to HSAs, which allow people to put aside money tax-free for medical expenses.

“There is an excitement in the business now,” Dr. Steve Neeleman, founder of Utah-based HealthEquity and a former trauma surgeon. “There are definitely things Washington can do to make HSAs more enticing to a broader market.”

Health saving accounts were introduced in 2003 in legislation championed by President George W. Bush. Enrollment steadily has grown to nearly 21 million accounts with $41 billion in assets, according to the Devenir Group, a research and consulting company that tracks the industry.


Still, that number is a small fraction of the 178 million people who have health insurance through their jobs or purchase it on their own.



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