Officers - Health Savings Account (HSA)

If you elect coverage under the High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP), you may also elect a Health Savings Account (HSA). It is important to keep in mind that you can only use HSA funds after you have contributed them. You must enroll in the HDHP to be eligible for the HSA. 

Each year, you can contribute money to your HSA on a pre-tax basis through payroll deductions up to $3,450* for Yourself Only coverage and $6,900* for Yourself and Spouse/Same-Sex Domestic Partner/Child or Family coverage. Any unused balance accumulates year over year.

You can manage both your HDHP and your HSA at

No matter which medical plan option you choose (or if you choose not to enroll in Columbia University medical coverage), you can enroll in the Dependent Care FSA. If you enroll in the HDHP, you can enroll in an HSA or the Healthcare FSA, but not both. 

Qualified Medical Expenses

Qualified medical expenses that may be paid through your HSA on a tax-free basis include: most medical care and services; dental and vision care; prescription drugs; and premiums paid for COBRA, long-term care and medical and prescription drug expenses as a retiree, including Medicare premiums.

You can see a complete list of eligible expenses on the IRS website (Publications 969 and 502)

Optum Bank, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, is the administrator of the HSA: 800-791-9361.

HSA Account

The HSA is your personal account even if you change health plans, leave Columbia or retire:

  • You do not pay taxes on the money you withdraw to pay for current and/or future qualified healthcare expenses. 
  • Withdrawals for non-qualified expenses are subject to taxes and an additional 20% penalty if you’re under age 65. For more details, see the Planning Guide (pdf).
  • You should keep careful records of your healthcare expenses and the corresponding withdrawals from your HSA, in case you need to provide proof to the IRS to support your account distributions reported on Form 8889 with your annual IRS tax return.
  • If you have an account balance of at least $2,000, you can choose to invest among multiple investment options with the balance over $2,000. Any earnings are automatically reinvested and grow tax-free. 

* IRS limits are subject to change.

You can change your HSA elections at any time during the year. The change will always be effective on the first of the following month.


HSA Restrictions

When Electing an HSA

  • Under IRS regulations, if you enroll in the HSA, you cannot participate in any Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA) (including rollover amounts):
    • In addition, if your spouse participates in a Healthcare FSA that permits reimbursement of your unreimbursed medical expenses, you will not be eligible to establish or contribute to an HSA until you are no longer covered by your spouse’s Healthcare FSA. 
    • You will not be eligible to establish or contribute to an HSA if you are covered by a medical plan option that is not an HSA-qualified HDHP (e.g., a spouse’s employer’s non-HDHP coverage). 
  • You can contribute to the HSA if you are over age 65, but only if you are not enrolled in any Medicare benefits (including Part A).

Important for Same-Sex Domestic Partners

IRS rules do not allow you to use your HSA to reimburse yourself for the expenses of your same-sex domestic partner or his/her children.


Funding Your HSA

Here’s how you can save using your HSA:

  • Pre-tax contributions. You can elect automatic payroll deductions on a pretax basis to fund your account and your election will be deducted in equal installments from each paycheck. You can change your contribution amount at any time. Keep in mind that the total amount of your contributions cannot exceed $3,450 for Yourself Only coverage and $6,900 for Yourself and Spouse/ Same-Sex Domestic Partner/Child or Family coverage. You cannot elect to  pre-fund your HSA at the beginning of the year. 
  • Catch-up contributions. If you are at least age 55 and are not enrolled in Medicare, you can make “catch-up” contributions to your HSA  The maximum catch-up contribution is $1,000.

Note: If you are considering after-tax HSA contributions, you may want to consult with a tax adviser or financial professional.


How to Access Your HSA Funds

You can choose to pay your bills out of your own pocket or through your HSA. If you choose to pay through your HSA, you can use:

  • Your Optum Bank HSA Debit Mastercard;
  • Online Bill Payment Service available on For example, you could use your HSA debit card to pay for prescription drugs at  the pharmacy. 

ImportantImportant! You cannot access funds in your HSA until you have contributed them. You need to build up your HSA contributions—made through payroll deductions—before taking money out of your HSA for eligible expenses. Your HSA funds will be available as soon as administratively possible after Columbia has sent your semi-monthly payroll deductions to Optum Bank.

See important reminders about the HSA


Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA) vs.
Health Savings Account (HSA)
FeatureHealth Care FSAHSA
(only available with HDHP)
Pre-tax contributionsYesYes, if you are not enrolled in Medicare*
Unused funds roll over from year-to-yearYes, up to $500** Yes,full amount
Investment options with taxfree earnings
Tax-free withdrawal for eligible expenses
Can use for eligible healthcare and dental expensesYesYes
Portable – can take it with you  when you leave Columbia
Can be used to pay for retiree medical expenses
Annual elected amount available at beginning of year
Can contribute if in HDHP Yes, if you are not enrolled in the HSAYes

* If you enroll in Medicare, you cannot make new contributions to the HSA; however, you can use any accumulated HSA funds to pay for eligible medical expenses.

** In the FSA, you must incur claims or expenses by December 31 each year or any balance over $500 will be forfeited. Balances of $500 or less will roll over to the next calendar year if you remain a benefitseligible employee at Columbia University. 


Important! The IRS does not permit you to elect both a Healthcare FSA and an HSA. If your spouse has one of the two—for example, through another employer—you cannot elect another type of tax-savings vehicle. This rule does not apply to domestic partners because the IRS does not allow the use of either account for the expenses of a domestic partner. If you have a balance of $500 or less rolled over from your Healthcare FSA from 2017, you will automatically be enrolled in a Healthcare FSA in 2018. However, if you would like to contribute the maximum allowable amount in 2018, you must enroll in the Healthcare FSA during Open Enrollment.