Health care costs in the US have skyrocketed over the past decade, and with it, medical-related debt. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine revealed that medical debt is the primary cause of personal bankruptcy. Among those who file for bankruptcy, three-quarters reported having some type of medical insurance.

75 million people in the US report problems paying their medical bills or are paying off medical debt, according to a study from The Commonwealth Fund. Bankrate found that one-in-four Americans say they owe more in medical debt than they have saved in an emergency fund, and more than 50 percent expressed concern that medical bills may one day overwhelm their finances.

At the same time, health savings accounts (HSAs), which help patients protect themselves from crushing medical bills, are on the rise.

HSA 101

A HSA is a tax-advantaged medical savings account available to people enrolled in high-deductible health plans (HDHP). They are like personal savings accounts, but the money is used to pay for health care expenses. Contributions to HSAs are 100 percent tax-deductible, tax-free, tax-deferred; and unused money isn't forfeited at the end of the year. The account owner, rather than an employer or health insurance company, retains complete control. Even if your employer contributes to the HSA, that money is still yours if you switch jobs.

As mentioned above, you need an HDHP policy to be eligible, and the deductible must be at least $1,250 for individual coverage or $2,500 for family coverage. HSA owners can make pretax contributions of up to $3,300 a year for individuals, and $6,550 for family coverage. People age 55 and older can save an extra $1,000 a year. The money can be spent on out-of-pocket medical expenses such as deductibles, copayments for medical care and prescriptions drugs, and bills not covered by insurance. Most HSAs offer multiple options for withdrawals.