A penny saved is a penny earned, and more Americans are putting that cash away in health accounts.

Despite a lull in 2008 and 2009 and decline in 2010, Americans are again taking advantage of health savings accounts and health reimbursement arrangements. According to new research, average account balances across the nation were $1,470 in 2011 — a 9% increase from 2010 — and $1,534 in 2012 — a 4% increase from 2011.

“People may have been afraid to tie up money in an account,” says Paul Fronstin, director of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, referring to the Great Recession years when balances declined.  “We know that people cut back on health care services overall.”

As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act opens up access to health care for more Americans, millions of whom are expected to have high-deductible health plans, Fronstin says the number of health savings accounts is likely to increase. However, “the overall average [account balance] could go down again, with people opening accounts and not putting much in them,” he adds.

The trend over time, however, is that more accounts equal more dollars. In 2012, there were 11.6 million HSA and HRA accounts with a combined total of $17.8 billion. Just six years before, in 2006, there were 1.3 million accounts with a combined total of $873.4 million.

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