HRA vs HSA: Examining the Similarities and Differences

HRA vs HSA - Similarities, Differences

Do you know the difference between an HRA vs HSA? Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences of Health Reimbursement Arrangements and Health Savings Accounts, particularly regarding account ownership, tax benefits, and insurance requirements.

HRA vs HSA Similarities

The idea behind HRAs and HSAs is that they help make healthcare more affordable for workers and their families. Each type of account has different advantages, and there are also many similarities.

Account holders and participants can use HRA or HSA funds to pay for qualified health expenses. Both accounts are part of consumer-directed healthcare, which empowers individuals to choose how and when to spend healthcare dollars. Also, both accounts can be part of an employer-sponsored benefit plan.

HRA vs HSA Differences

Account types and insurance requirements

There is only one type of Health Savings Account (HSA). To open and contribute to an HSA, account owners must be enrolled in an HSA-eligible (HDHP) health plan.

In comparison, there are several types of Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) accounts:

  • Group HRA – A traditional HRA is offered by employers paired with a group health plan and covers IRS-approved out-of-pocket expenses as determined by the employer
  • Individual Coverage HRA – Employers of any size can offer ICHRAs to cover individual health insurance premiums (non-group) and, in some cases, employer-approved eligible expenses
  • Excepted Benefit HRA – EBHRAs are offered by employers to help cover the dental, vision, short-term disability, etc.
  • Qualified Small Employer HRA – Offered by employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees to cover non-group health insurance premiums and employer-approved expenses

Account ownership

An HRA is employer-owned, whereas an HSA is employee-owned. So, an HRA remains with the employer when an employee leaves the company, and the funds return to the employer.

With an HSA, the employee owns the account for life, regardless of employment status. The account holder can continue to use the available balance and, if enrolled in an HSA-eligible plan, keep making new contributions. Account holders may also invest their HSA funds once their account balance reaches a minimum threshold.

Funding and taxes

Another noteworthy difference is funding. The money in an HRA comes solely from the employer, who also determines the annual limit. Therefore, the employer sets the rules for which expenses are eligible for reimbursement, such as deductibles, copays, coinsurance, and possibly other services like dental and vision.

Anyone can fund an HSA, but contributions generally come from the employee, the employer, or both. The IRS sets the guidelines for HSA-qualified expenses and the annual limits for HSA contributions.

There are also tax advantage differences. Since an HRA is employer-funded, only the employer gets a tax reduction. However, approved expense reimbursements are not taxable to the employee.

With an HSA, contributions are tax-free, and the account holder earns tax-free interest on the account balance and tax-free investment gains. The employer also gets a tax benefit for any contributions it makes.

The table below provides a side-by-side comparison of the differences between an HRA and HSA for account holders:

HRA vs HSA: Differences for Account Holders

ItemHealth Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)Health Savings Account (HSA)
FundingEmployer-funded onlyFunded by account holder and/or employer
Tax-advantaged contributionsEmployer onlyAccount holder and employer
PortabilityNo; stays with employerYes; stays with account holder
Integration with other tax-advantaged accountsCan integrated with FSANone
Coverage requirementGroup plan or approved individual policy, depending on HRA plan typeHSA-eligible (HDHP) required
Interest earnedNoneYes, tax-free
Ability to investNoYes, once account reaches a certain balance
Rollover/account accumulationDependent on plan set upYes, with no limit
Funds available for use in retirementDependent on plan set upYes

Which is better for employers?

  • HRAs offer greater control over contributions and permitted expenses.
  • HRAs can offer cost reductions for both the employer and the employee, so it’s a win-win.
  • Employer contributions to HRA accounts are 100% tax-deductible.
  • HRAs require employees to pay for out-of-pocket expenses and then request reimbursement, reducing fraud potential.

While HSAs are a great way to help eligible employees, they don’t provide employers as much control. And there is an added administrative record-keeping need with an HRA.

Which is better for employees?

  • Both HSAs and HRAs can help employees to lower their healthcare costs.
  • With HRAs, employees are not subject to taxes on their income, but they don’t get any tax savings. But, HSAs offer triple tax savings.
  • While some accounts have a “use it or lose it” provision, HRA funds can be rolled over to the next year if permitted. HSAs always go with you; there is no “use it or lose it” provision.
  • If you’re looking for a lifelong account, HSAs are your answer.
  • If you like your HRA but leave your job, you may never find another one that exactly meets your needs.

Knowing the difference between an HRA and an HSA is important, especially as they are key to consumer-driven healthcare. Decide which one is right for you.

For 40 years, DataPath has been a pivotal force in the employee benefits, financial services, and insurance industries. The company’s flagship DataPath Summit platform offers an integrated solution for managing CDH, HSA, Well-Being, COBRA, and Billing. Through its partnership with Accelergent Growth Solutions, DataPath also offers expert BPO services, automation, outsourced customer service, and award-winning marketing services.

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