Just as employers that match employees' 401(k) plan contributions see higher employee participation in the plan, employers that contribute to employees' health savings accounts (HSAs) are more likely to see eligible employees open an HSA.

An examination by UnitedHealthcare of HSA-eligible participants found that when an employer made an HSA contribution on its employees' behalf, 86% of eligible employees chose to open an account, compared with 27% who opened an account when the employer did not provide "seed money." Account adoption was highest among employees who earned less than $25,000 annually, with 64% of employees at this income level having an account. The percentage of employees who opened an account then steadily dropped as income level rose: 56% of those in the $25,000-$49,999 earnings range, 52% of those in the $50,000-$99,999 earnings range and 50% of those earning $100,000 or more. However, as might be expected, the average employee HSA contribution rose as income level rose: $1,166 for employees earning less than $25,000 annually, $1,422 for those earning $25,000-$49,999, $1,823 for those earning $50,000-$99,999 and $2,290 for those earning $100,000 or more.

Neither age nor marital status drove or deterred an employee's likelihood to open an account, according to the survey. More than half of young singles (62%), singles over age 40 (52%), young couples (58%), young families (59%) and mature families (55%) opened an HSA. However, the highest contribution rate was seen among families, both young and mature. Also, employees of small companies were more likely to open an HSA if eligible, with 74% of small company employees taking this step, compared with 67% of employees at mid-size companies and 45% of employees at large companies.

The vast majority of HSA-participating employees had account balances at the end of the year, a testament to the usefulness of HSAs as a savings tool for future health care expenses, including retiree health care expenses.

As this survey suggests, HSAs have application across all income groups, life stages and employer environments, making it an appropriate health plan offering for just about any company to consider.