Hoping to facilitate the adoption of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) by employers,
the U.S. Department of Labor has issued a Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) to its
investigators that provides them--and everyone else--with guidance on
enforcing the new rules governing HSAs.
HSAs, created by the Medicare Modernization Act signed by President Bush on
Dec. 8, 2003, are designed to help individuals pay for current health expenses
and save for future qualified health expenses on a tax-free basis. To be eligible
for an HSA, an individual must be covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).
The DOL acknowledges that since enactment, "a number of questions"
have been raised concerning whether HSAs constitute employee welfare benefit
plans governed by Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
The guidance makes clear that while private-sector employer-sponsored HDHPs
are group health plans subject to ERISA's reporting, disclosure, fiduciary
responsibility and other requirements, HSAs generally will not constitute ERISA-covered
employee benefit plans.
The guidance also clarifies that an employer can make contributions to the
HSA of an eligible individual without being considered to have established or
maintained the HSA as an ERISA-covered plan, provided that the employer's
involvement with the HSA is limited.
The FAB is part of the department's ongoing compliance assistance program
to help employers, plan officials and service providers and other comply with
ERISA. It's available on the Web page of the DOL agency responsible for overseeing
HSAs, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa.