Mobile access to medical finances is becoming more important for employees — and their banks.
As more employers require consumers to contribute to their health care through a health savings account, the banks that provide these accounts are trying to make them easier to manage. Mobile account access is emerging as a way to inject clarity into the confusing world of health care.
Experts say a driver behind the development of mobile applications for HSAs is similar to one behind the development of mobile access to mainstream financial products: Consumers want to know how much money they have in their accounts in situations where they may have no other way of knowing.
"If you have an HSA and you need information about your accounts when you're not in front of a computer … visiting a doctor's office or more importantly visiting a pharmacy, it could be quite helpful," said Red Gillen, a senior analyst with Celent.
A Celent report released in April said the number of "mobile health care banking users" could reach 5.4 million by 2014.
Mobile account access services could help banks compete for contracts with employers, who are looking for ways to make accessing health information, especially financial account data, easier for their workers, he said.
A handful of technology vendors have introduced or have announced services to let consumers view plan information and look up health savings and other account balances with a mobile phone application, text message or in a mobile web browser.
John Reynolds, the president of government, education and health care solutions at Fidelity National Information Services Inc., said his company is responding to needs of the many employers that have adopted high-deductible insurance plans or plans with higher copayments.
"There's just a higher percentage of the costs that's being borne by the consumer," said Reynolds, whose division announced at last week's Finovate conference in New York plans to begin offering a mobile health care app.
PocketBenefits will provide consumers access to information, including account balances, that is available through FIS' online WealthCare portal.
FIS sells access to WealthCare to banks, insurance companies or third-party administrators.
Those companies in turn sell access to employers, who make the portal available to their employees, Reynolds said.
Offering a mobile version made sense because often "a lot of times folks don't know, going into a visit with a physician, where they stand" in terms of their HSA balance, he said.
FIS has offered other mobile health care services through Monitise Americas, a joint venture with London technology vendor Monitise PLC.
Kunal Pandya, a senior analyst who follows health insurance and payments trends for the Boston research firm Aite Group LLC, estimates that there are 9 million open HSA accounts and 8.5 million open health reimbursement accounts in the United States. The combined number of accounts grew by 35% to 45% on average for most financial institutions last year.
Offering mobile access to users of these accounts makes sense from a demographics perspective, Pandya said, because many are between 25 and 45 years old. A large percentage of this population is comfortable using a phone to look up information.
Mobile access also could help increase overall consumer awareness of general health care information, which tends to be low, he said.
"It's very confusing," Pandya said. "There's a lot of information, and that is where the consumer awareness part of it will come into" play.
FIS also expects such features to help banks up the ante when competing for business, Reynolds said. Many banks say employers and health plan administrators are inquiring about mobile features, he added.
As banks pitch their health accounts to employers, "having this extra functionality helps your cause," Reynolds said.
PayFlex Systems USA Inc., an administrator of employee benefit plans, debuted an application called PayFlex Mobile in August that will let users access account information as well as upload and store receipts and other claims documents using a phone's camera.
About 15 companies are expected to go live with the application, which the company is offering in conjunction with its online HealthHub portal, in January. At that time it will be available to about 210,000 users, said Darren McCue, the executive vice president of strategy and product development for PayFlex.
The application will be available for Apple Inc.'s iPhone, Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry devices and mobile phones running on Google Inc.'s Android operating system, he said.