In the United States, Medicare is a federal social insurance program that provides health insurance to people over the age of 65, individuals who become totally and permanently disabled, end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients, and people with ALS. Recent research has found that the health trends of previously uninsured adults, especially those with chronic health problems, improves once they enter the Medicare program. Traditional Medicare requires considerable cost-sharing, but ninety percent of Medicare enrollees have some kind of supplemental insurance—either employer-sponsored or retiree coverage, Medicaid, or a private Medigap plan—that covers some or all of their cost-sharing. With supplemental insurance, Medicare ensures that its enrollees have predictable, affordable health care costs regardless of unforeseen illness or injury.
The insured person has full freedom of choice among the approximately 60 recognised healthcare providers competent to treat their condition (in their region) on the understanding that the costs are covered by the insurance up to the level of the official tariff. There is freedom of choice when selecting an insurance company to which one pays a premium, usually on a monthly basis. The insured person pays the insurance premium for the basic plan up to 8% of their personal income. If a premium is higher than this, the government gives the insured person a cash subsidy to pay for any additional premium.
Health insurance absorbs or offsets healthcare costs associated with, but not limited to, routine health examinations, specialist referral visits, inpatient and outpatient surgery, unforeseen eventualities such as illnesses or injuries, and prescription medication. Health insurance policies are categorized as privately paid for by an individual, publicly provided as a service through Social Security, or commercially arranged by a company as part of an employee benefit package.
The Commonwealth Fund, in its annual survey, "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall", compares the performance of the health care systems in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and the U.S. Its 2007 study found that, although the U.S. system is the most expensive, it consistently under-performs compared to the other countries. One difference between the U.S. and the other countries in the study is that the U.S. is the only country without universal health insurance coverage.
The compulsory insurance can be supplemented by private "complementary" insurance policies that allow for coverage of some of the treatment categories not covered by the basic insurance or to improve the standard of room and service in case of hospitalisation. This can include complementary medicine, routine dental treatment and private ward hospitalisation, which are not covered by the compulsory insurance.
Insurance companies are not allowed to have co-payments, caps, or deductibles, or to deny coverage to any person applying for a policy, or to charge anything other than their nationally set and published standard premiums. Therefore, every person buying insurance will pay the same price as everyone else buying the same policy, and every person will get at least the minimum level of coverage.
The universal compulsory coverage provides for treatment in case of illness or accident and pregnancy. Health insurance covers the costs of medical treatment, medication and hospitalization of the insured. However, the insured person pays part of the costs up to a maximum, which can vary based on the individually chosen plan, premiums are then adjusted accordingly. The whole healthcare system is geared towards to the general goals of enhancing general public health and reducing costs while encouraging individual responsibility.
The US has a joint federal and state system for regulating insurance, with the federal government ceding primary responsibility to the states under the McCarran-Ferguson Act. States regulate the content of health insurance policies and often require coverage of specific types of medical services or health care providers. State mandates generally do not apply to the health plans offered by large employers, because of the preemption clause of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
The Swiss healthcare system is a combination of public, subsidised private and totally private systems. Insurance premiums vary from insurance company to company, the excess level individually chosen (franchise), the place of residence of the insured person and the degree of supplementary benefit coverage chosen (complementary medicine, routine dental care, semi-private or private ward hospitalisation, etc.).
Public polling consistently showed majority support for a public option. A July 2009 survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that 28% of Americans would like to purchase a public plan while 53% would prefer to have a private plan. It also stated that 69% would support its creation in the first place. Survey USA estimated that the majority of Americans (77%) feel that it is either "Quite Important" or "Extremely Important" to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance" in August 2009. A Rasmussen Reports poll taken on August 17–18 stated that 57% of Americans did not support the current health care bill being considered by Congress that did not include a public option, a change from their findings in July 2009. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted August 15–17, found that 47% of Americans opposed the idea of a public option and 43% expressed support. A Pew Research Center report published on October 8, 2009 stated that 55% of Americans favor a government health insurance plan to compete with private plans. The results were very similar to their polling from July, which found 52% support. An October 2009 Washington Post/ABC poll showed 57% support, a USA Today/Gallup survey described by a USA Today article on October 27 found that 50% of Americans supported a government plan proposal, and a poll from November 10 and 11 by Angus Reid Public Opinion found that 52% of Americans supported a public plan. On October 27, journalist Ray Suarez of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer noted that "public opinion researchers say the tide has been shifting over the last several weeks, and now is not spectacularly, but solidly in favor of a public option."
Ultimately, the public option was removed from the final bill. While the United States House of Representatives passed a public option in their version of the bill, the public option was voted down in the Senate Finance Committee and the public option was never included in the final Senate bill, instead opting for state-directed health insurance exchanges. Critics of the removal of the public option accused President Obama of making an agreement to drop the public option from the final plan, but the record showed that the agreement was based on vote counts rather than backroom deals, as substantiated by the final vote in the Senate.
Health insurance companies are not actually providing traditional insurance, which involves the pooling of risk, because the vast majority of purchasers actually do face the harms that they are "insuring" against. Instead, as Edward Beiser and Jacob Appel have separately argued, health insurers are better thought of as low-risk money managers who pocket the interest on what are really long-term healthcare savings accounts.
A 2011 study found that there were 2.1 million hospital stays for uninsured patients, accounting for 4.4% ($17.1 billion) of total aggregate inpatient hospital costs in the United States. The costs of treating the uninsured must often be absorbed by providers as charity care, passed on to the insured via cost-shifting and higher health insurance premiums, or paid by taxpayers through higher taxes.