You need to look into Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and you need to do it now.

In over 30 years in the business, I have yet to hear a roofing contractor tell me how thrilled he is over his company health insurance plan. Year-over-year cost increases coupled with regulations that seem designed to cut out small businesses have created more chronic pain for roofing contractors than any amount of insurance could ever cure.

You have an option today that may provide the relief you have been after for years. You need to look into Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and you need to do it now. You should learn how they work, which insurers may provide them, and how to appropriately structure a plan for yourself and your firm.

According to the U.S. government's brochure on HSAs, "A Health Savings Account is an account that you can put money into to save for future medical expenses. There are certain advantages to putting money into these accounts, including favorable tax treatment." For some of you, HSAs offer some significant benefits, not the least of which is actually having a healthcare plan to help you attract the best people.

Basically, if you have a qualifying "high-deductible" health plan, individuals enrolled in the plan can put aside cash in an HSA for future medical expenses. Pre-tax dollars, that is. Those dollars belong to the individual with strings attached; but they are real savings dollars. Unused funds continue to grow in the HSA account and may be withdrawn in a similar fashion as an IRA account once you reach a certain age. These high-deductible health plans may be considerably less expensive for both employer and employee.

I think this plan will work, if for no other reason than because it involves everyone, somewhat, in how the healthcare dollar is spent: employers, employees, health-care providers and insurers. With high-deductible health insurance plans, the insured pays for most of the routine doctor visits and medications. The transactional costs alone save considerable dollars, but the attitude of patients change when their own pockets are involved. In the traditional insurance mode, if you don't spend it you lose it (or the insurance company keeps it). On top of this, the insured gets to decide what is paid out of the HSA, including things like eye care and non-prescription medications; frequently expensive options with a traditional healthcare plan.

With HSAs, if you stay healthy you just keep saving. And that saves everyone money. I also believe HSAs will allow many, many more people to obtain health insurance coverage, which could ultimately save us on our state and federal taxes.

We have cheered on the efforts of the National Roofing Contractors Association and others who are lobbying for federal laws to allow for the establishment of association healthcare plans (AHP). We still feel that enabling AHPs is long overdue; but the establishment of HSAs is available now, and should ultimately be able to tie in with association plans should they ever become available.

These few words are only meant to suggest you take action; they do not provide a complete picture of HSAs. You need to get to work on that and discover for yourself if HSAs are right for your situation. As difficult as it is to recruit and keep great people, and as difficult as it is just to be in the roof contracting business, you need all the help you can get.

For more information, contact the U.S. Department of the Treasury at 202.622.2000, or find them on the Web at: