As Congress debates expanding allowable contributions to health savings accounts, research shows most participants don't make maximum contributions and many have little or no understanding of how HSAs work.
"Raising the limits isn't everything" for improving the use of HSAs, said Paul Fronstin, director of the health research and education program for the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington.
EBRI research, in fact, shows that familiarity breeds content, among workers who contribute to HSAs.
"The longer someone has had an HSA, the more likely they are to contribute the maximum," said an EBRI report issued July 30.
EBRI's database shows only 6% of HSA accounts that were opened in 2016 had the maximum contribution. The current limit is $3,450 for a single account holder and $6,900 for family coverage. Workers who are 55 and older and not enrolled in Medicare can contribute an extra $1,000.
However, when EBRI looked at HSA accounts that were opened in earlier years, it found a consistent pattern of more maximum contributions taking place in 2016 depending on how long someone used an HSA.
For accounts that opened in 2012, for example, EBRI data show 20% of participants made a maximum annual contribution in 2016. For accounts that opened in 2006, EBRI said, 30% of participants made the maximum annual contribution in 2016.
In aggregate, only 13% of HSA account owners contributed the maximum amount in 2016, the last year for which data are available. Mr. Fronstin said the low percentage is due primarily to most HSAs being new.
EBRI tracks 5.5 million health savings accounts with a total of $11.3 billion in assets as of year-end 2016. Its database covers 27% of HSAs and 31% of HSA assets. Seventy-seven percent of the database reflects HSAs that opened between 2013 and 2016.