Jan. 12, 2005--When it comes to finding ways to offer their workers health insurance, most employers seems to like the idea of health savings accounts -- known as HSAs -- a pair of surveys recently found. The problem is that few employers have actually made the move to offer them while few employees seem to even know what they are.

Health savings accounts -- plans that combine higher deductibles for individuals with lower monthly premiums -- reached national prominence last year when President Bush publicized them as a key component of the Medicare Reform and Drug Benefit Bill. In a speech following the passage of the bill, Bush said, "starting this year, millions of Americans will be able to save money, tax-free, for their medical expenses in a health savings account. On the critical issue of health care, our goal is to ensure that Americans can choose and afford private health care coverage that best fits their individual needs."

Yet, in a survey of 1,000 insured individuals conducted by Watson Wyatt, a Washington, D.C.-based benefits consulting firm, only 33% of the respondents said they understood what HSAs are, while a whopping 61% said they hadn't even heard of them at all.

At the same time, a separate survey of 500 large employers conducted by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consultancy based in Lincolnshire, Ill., found that while 57% of employers are considering implementing HSAs in the future, only 3% are actively planning to implement plans in 2005.

"It's not surprising that many individuals haven't yet heard of HSAs," said Ted Chien, global director of group and health care consulting at Watson Wyatt. "But the plans are likely to gain momentum this year, especially since they offer both employers and employees some hope to slow rising health care costs. As more employers implement these plans, educating employees on the risks and rewards of HSAs will be critical to their success."