While the number of health savings accounts and health reimbursement arrangements increased in 2010, average individual account balances fell, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Another interesting finding: Those who exercised, didn’t smoke and were not obese had higher account balances than those whose behaviors weren’t as healthy.

The number of HSAs and HRAs, which are used to reimburse participants for qualified medical expenses, increased to 5.7 million in 2010, up from $1.2 million in 2006, according to the report, while assets in these health plans jumped to $7.7 billion in 2010, up from $835.4 million in 2006. Yet the report found the average account balance dropped in 2010 to $1,355, down from $1,419 in 2009. 

Men held higher average balances than women, with men on average having account balances of $1,525, while women’s balances on average were $1,321. This could be a sign that women are making less than men and feel they have less flexibility with their income, even when it comes to health care needs.

Meanwhile, those between 55 and 64 years of age held higher average balances ($1,791), than those younger ($1,250–$1,400) and minorities held higher account balances ($1,531) than whites ($1,387). Nonetheless, both minorities and whites experienced a decline between 2009 and 2010, with the decline among minorities larger than among whites.

At the same time, account balances increased with household income.  The average account balance was $1,166 among individuals with less than $50,000 in household income; $1,303 among individuals with $50,000−$99,999, and $1,742 among individuals with $100,000 or more. 

In addition, education has an impact on account balances. Those with a high school degree or less have an average of $1,219 in their account, while those with a college degree have $1,519, and those with a graduate degree have $1,558.  Only individuals with a graduate degree experienced a decline in their average account balance in 2010. 

While the average individual rollover amount in 2010 declined, total assets being rolled over have been increasing: $4.2 billion was rolled over in 2010, up from $4 billion in 2009.  The average individual rollover increased from $592 in 2006 to $1,295 in 2009, before falling to $1,029 in 2010.

Growth in HSAs and HRAs are tracked by the "EBRI/MGA 2010 Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey." The survey found no correlation between either account balance or rollover amounts and cost-conscious behaviors such as checking prices before getting services, or asking for generic drugs instead of brand names, among other things. 

Ruthie Ackerman is the online editor of Financial Planning magazine, a SourceMedia publication.
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