A contract between an insurance provider (e.g. an insurance company or a government) and an individual or his/her sponsor (e.g. an employer or a community organization). The contract can be renewable (e.g. annually, monthly) or lifelong in the case of private insurance, or be mandatory for all citizens in the case of national plans. The type and amount of health care costs that will be covered by the health insurance provider are specified in writing, in a member contract or "Evidence of Coverage" booklet for private insurance, or in a national health policy for public insurance.
How to Enroll: Individuals who need coverage can fill out a single application to find out what financial assistance they are eligible for and to apply for coverage. To find your state’s Marketplace and to apply online go to www.healthcare.gov. Individuals can also call toll-free 1-800-318-2596 to apply. Those needing assistance with filling out the application can get help from trained, certified counselors; to find in-person assistance near you, contact your state’s Marketplace or visit www.healthcare.gov.
However, with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, effective since 2014, federal laws have created some uniformity in partnership with the existing state-based system. Insurers are prohibited from discriminating against or charging higher rates for individuals based on pre-existing medical conditions and must offer a standard set of coverage.[31][32]

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.[12] 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.[13]
Starting October 1, new financial assistance called the Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit will be available to help make insurance premiums affordable for those who need coverage. The website Healthcare.gov will provide a single location where you find out whether you are eligible for the premium tax credit and shop for and compare the different health insurance plans available to you in your state. Check out Healthcare.gov if you would like to learn more about the new options available October 1 and what you need to do to get ready. Meanwhile, if you need coverage immediately and would like to search for and compare plans available now, go to finder.healthcare.gov to start your search.
Health insurance isn’t just about access to healthcare – it’s also about protection from financial ruin. Insurance can be expensive, but lacking coverage can cost much more. No one is invincible; anybody can be injured in a car accident, or receive an unexpected diagnosis. While it’s unclear whether poor health begets financial insecurity or vice versa, the correlation between not having health insurance and financial instability is indisputable. Indeed, medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy filings among Americans.
In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, in Chaoulli v. Quebec, that the province's prohibition on private insurance for health care already insured by the provincial plan violated the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in particular the sections dealing with the right to life and security, if there were unacceptably long wait times for treatment, as was alleged in this case. The ruling has not changed the overall pattern of health insurance across Canada, but has spurred on attempts to tackle the core issues of supply and demand and the impact of wait times.[18]
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On the 1st of August, 2018 the DHHS issued a final rule which made federal changes to Short-Term, Limited-Duration Health Insurance (STLDI) which lengthened the maximum contract term to 364 days and renewal for up to 36 months.[45][46] This new rule, in combination with the expiration of the penalty for the Individual Mandate of the Affordable Care Act,[47] has been the subject of independent analysis.[48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55]
Fringe benefits are generally included in an employee’s gross income (there are some exceptions). The benefits are subject to income tax withholding and employment taxes. Fringe benefits include cars and flights on aircraft that the employer provides, free or discounted commercial flights, vacations, discounts on property or services, memberships in country clubs or other social clubs, and tickets to entertainment or sporting events.
The chief executive of Aetna, Ron Williams, argued against the public option based on issues of fairness. On the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Williams noted that a public option creates a situation where "you have in essence a player in the industry who is a participant in the market, but also is a regulator and a referee in the game". He said, "we think that those two roles really don't work well."[41]
As of 2014, more than three-quarters of the country’s Medicaid enrollees were covered under private Medicaid managed care plans, and 31 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans in 2016. However, the funding for these plans still comes from the government (federal for Medicare Advantage, and a combination of state and federal funding for Medicaid managed care).

Coverage limits: Some health insurance policies only pay for health care up to a certain dollar amount. The insured person may be expected to pay any charges in excess of the health plan's maximum payment for a specific service. In addition, some insurance company schemes have annual or lifetime coverage maxima. In these cases, the health plan will stop payment when they reach the benefit maximum, and the policy-holder must pay all remaining costs.


In March 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The Small Business Health Fairness Act (H.R. 1101), which established "requirements for creating a federally-certified AHP, including for certification itself, sponsors and boards of trustees, participation and coverage, nondiscrimination, contribution rates, and voluntary termination."[79][84]
Funding from the equalization pool is distributed to insurance companies for each person they insure under the required policy. However, high-risk individuals get more from the pool, and low-income persons and children under 18 have their insurance paid for entirely. Because of this, insurance companies no longer find insuring high risk individuals an unappealing proposition, avoiding the potential problem of adverse selection.
PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) - A type of insurance plan that offers more extensive coverage for the services of healthcare providers who are part of the plan's network, but still offers some coverage for providers who are not part of the plan's network. PPO plans generally offer more flexibility than HMO plans, but premiums tend to be higher.
Deductible: The amount that the insured must pay out-of-pocket before the health insurer pays its share. For example, policy-holders might have to pay a $500 deductible per year, before any of their health care is covered by the health insurer. It may take several doctor's visits or prescription refills before the insured person reaches the deductible and the insurance company starts to pay for care. Furthermore, most policies do not apply co-pays for doctor's visits or prescriptions against your deductible.
Effective group health plan years beginning after September 23, 2010, if an employer-sponsored health plan allows employees' children to enroll in coverage, then the health plan must allow employees' adult children to enroll as well as long as the adult child is not yet age 26. Some group health insurance plans may also require that the adult child not be eligible for other group health insurance coverage, but only before 2014.[78]
Health insurance can be tricky to navigate. Managed care insurance plans require policyholders to receive care from a network of designated health care providers for the highest level of coverage. If patients seek care outside the network, they must pay a higher percentage of the cost. In some cases, the insurance company may even refuse payment outright for services obtained out of network. Many managed care plans require patients to choose a primary care physician who oversees the patient's care and makes recommendations about treatment. Insurance companies may also deny coverage for services that were obtained without preauthorization. In addition, insurers may refuse payment for name-brand drugs if a generic version or comparable medication is available at a lower cost.
In 2003, according to the Heartland Institute's Merrill Matthews, association group health insurance plans offered affordable health insurance to "some 6 million Americans." Matthews responded to the criticism that said that some associations work too closely with their insurance providers. He said, "You would expect the head of AARP to have a good working relationship with the CEO of Prudential, which sells policies to AARP's seniors."[83]

Plans with much higher deductibles than traditional health plans—primarily providing coverage for catastrophic illness—have been introduced.[105] Because of the high deductible, these provide little coverage for everyday expenses—and thus have potentially high out-of-pocket expenses—but do cover major expenses. Couple with these are various forms of savings plans.


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows qualifying individuals and families to receive financial assistance to help cover the cost of premiums. Known as the Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit, this subsidy helps people who need health insurance afford their coverage. Healthcare.gov provides a single location where you find out whether you are eligible for the premium tax credit and shop for and compare the different health insurance plans available to you in your state.

Prior to the ACA as of 2007, about 9% of Americans were covered under health insurance purchased directly,[53] with average out-of-pocket spending is higher in the individual market, with higher deductibles, co-payments and other cost-sharing provisions.[72][89][90] While self-employed individuals receive a tax deduction for their health insurance and can buy health insurance with additional tax benefits, most consumers in the individual market do not receive any tax benefit.[91]


Health insurance programs allow workers and their families to take care of essential medical needs. A health plan can be one of the most important benefits provided by an employer. The Department of Labor's Health Benefits Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation ACT (COBRA) provides information on the rights and protections that are afforded to workers under COBRA.
Long-term care (LTC) insurance reimburses the policyholder for the cost of long-term or custodial care services designed to minimize or compensate for the loss of functioning due to age, disability or chronic illness.[126] LTC has many surface similarities to long-term disability insurance. There are at least two fundamental differences, however. LTC policies cover the cost of certain types of chronic care, while long-term-disability policies replace income lost while the policyholder is unable to work. For LTC, the event triggering benefits is the need for chronic care, while the triggering event for disability insurance is the inability to work.[123]

Prior to the ACA as of 2007, about 9% of Americans were covered under health insurance purchased directly,[53] with average out-of-pocket spending is higher in the individual market, with higher deductibles, co-payments and other cost-sharing provisions.[72][89][90] While self-employed individuals receive a tax deduction for their health insurance and can buy health insurance with additional tax benefits, most consumers in the individual market do not receive any tax benefit.[91]
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows qualifying individuals and families to receive financial assistance to help cover the cost of premiums. Known as the Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit, this subsidy helps people who need health insurance afford their coverage. Healthcare.gov provides a single location where you find out whether you are eligible for the premium tax credit and shop for and compare the different health insurance plans available to you in your state.
Private health insurance may be purchased on a group basis (e.g., by a firm to cover its employees) or purchased by individual consumers. Most Americans with private health insurance receive it through an employer-sponsored program. According to the United States Census Bureau, some 60% of Americans are covered through an employer, while about 9% purchase health insurance directly.[53] Private insurance was billed for 12.2 million inpatient hospital stays in 2011, incurring approximately 29% ($112.5 billion) of the total aggregate inpatient hospital costs in the United States.[12]
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.[45] 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.[46] With supplemental insurance, Medicare ensures that its enrollees have predictable, affordable health care costs regardless of unforeseen illness or injury.
PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) - A type of insurance plan that offers more extensive coverage for the services of healthcare providers who are part of the plan's network, but still offers some coverage for providers who are not part of the plan's network. PPO plans generally offer more flexibility than HMO plans, but premiums tend to be higher.
PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) - A type of insurance plan that offers more extensive coverage for the services of healthcare providers who are part of the plan's network, but still offers some coverage for providers who are not part of the plan's network. PPO plans generally offer more flexibility than HMO plans, but premiums tend to be higher.
For many Americans, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck, health insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense. The opposite is true. While there are many smart ways to go about saving money, going without health insurance isn’t one of them. Forgoing coverage isn’t smart, nor will it save you money in the long run. The bottom line? Being uninsured is financially risky.
The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a joint state/federal program to provide health insurance to children in families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private insurance. The statutory authority for CHIP is under title XXI of the Social Security Act. CHIP programs are run by the individual states according to requirements set by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and may be structured as independent programs separate from Medicaid (separate child health programs), as expansions of their Medicaid programs (CHIP Medicaid expansion programs), or combine these approaches (CHIP combination programs). States receive enhanced federal funds for their CHIP programs at a rate above the regular Medicaid match.
The public health insurance option, also known as the public insurance option or the public option, is a proposal to create a government-run health insurance agency that would compete with other private health insurance companies within the United States. The public option is not the same as publicly funded health care, but was proposed as an alternative health insurance plan offered by the government. The public option was initially proposed for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but was removed after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) threatened a filibuster.[1][2]

A number of alternatives to the public option were proposed in the Senate. Instead of creating a network of statewide public plans, Senator Olympia Snowe proposed a "trigger" in which a plan would be put into place at some point in the future in states that do not have more than a certain number of private insurance competitors. Senator Tom Carper has proposed an "opt-in" system in which state governments choose for themselves whether or not to institute a public plan. Senator Chuck Schumer has proposed an "opt-out" system in which state governments would initially be part of the network but could choose to avoid offering a public plan.[35]
Consumers wishing to deposit pre-tax funds in an HSA must be enrolled in a high-deductible insurance plan (HDHP) with a number of restrictions on benefit design; in 2007, qualifying plans must have a minimum deductible of US$1,050. Currently, the minimum deductible has risen to $1.200 for individuals and $2,400 for families. HSAs enable healthier individuals to pay less for insurance and deposit money for their own future health care, dental and vision expenses.[107]

Over time, the operations of many Blue Cross and Blue Shield operations have become more similar to those of commercial health insurance companies.[101] However, some Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans continue to serve as insurers of last resort.[102] Similarly, the benefits offered by Blues plans, commercial insurers, and HMOs are converging in many respects because of market pressures. One example is the convergence of preferred provider organization (PPO) plans offered by Blues and commercial insurers and the point of service plans offered by HMOs. Historically, commercial insurers, Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, and HMOs might be subject to different regulatory oversight in a state (e.g., the Department of Insurance for insurance companies, versus the Department of Health for HMOs). Today, it is common for commercial insurance companies to have HMOs as subsidiaries, and for HMOs to have insurers as subsidiaries (the state license for an HMO is typically different from that for an insurance company).[19][95][103] At one time the distinctions between traditional indemnity insurance, HMOs and PPOs were very clear; today, it can be difficult to distinguish between the products offered by the various types of organization operating in the market.[104]
Individuals injured on the job while employed by private companies or state and local government agencies should contact their state workers' compensation board. The Department of Labor has several programs designed to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. You may obtain information about these programs by visiting the Workplace Safety & Health page.

In July 2009, Save Flexible Spending Plans, a national grassroots advocacy organization, was formed to protect against the restricted use of FSAs in health care reform efforts, Save Flexible Spending Accounts is sponsored by the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC), a non-profit organization "dedicated to the maintenance and expansion of the private employee benefits on a tax-advantaged basis".[109] ECFC members include companies such as WageWorks Inc., a benefits provider based in San Mateo, California.
Provider networks can be used to reduce costs by negotiating favorable fees from providers, selecting cost effective providers, and creating financial incentives for providers to practice more efficiently.[22] A survey issued in 2009 by America's Health Insurance Plans found that patients going to out-of-network providers are sometimes charged extremely high fees.[99][100]
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.[131][132]
Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.
Shortly after his inauguration, President Clinton offered a new proposal for a universal health insurance system. Like Nixon's plan, Clinton's relied on mandates, both for individuals and for insurers, along with subsidies for people who could not afford insurance. The bill would have also created "health-purchasing alliances" to pool risk among multiple businesses and large groups of individuals. The plan was staunchly opposed by the insurance industry and employers' groups and received only mild support from liberal groups, particularly unions, which preferred a single payer system. Ultimately it failed after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.[34]
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