Over time, the operations of many Blue Cross and Blue Shield operations have become more similar to those of commercial health insurance companies. However, some Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans continue to serve as insurers of last resort. 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). 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.
The purpose behind the public option was to make more affordable health insurance for uninsured citizens who are either unable to afford the rates of or are rejected by private health insurers. Supporters argued that a government insurance company could successfully lower its rates by using greater leverage than private industry when negotiating with hospitals and doctors, as well as paying the employees of the public option insurance company salaries as opposed to paying based on individual medical procedures.
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.
Efforts to pass a national pool were unsuccessful for many years. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it became easier for people with pre-existing conditions to afford regular insurance, since all insurers are fully prohibited from discriminating against or charging higher rates for any individuals based on pre-existing medical conditions. Therefore, most of the state-based pools shut down. As of 2017, some remain due to statutes which have not been updated, but they also may cover people with gaps in coverage such as undocumented immigrants or Medicare-eligible individuals under the age of 65.
The employer typically makes a substantial contribution towards the cost of coverage. Typically, employers pay about 85% of the insurance premium for their employees, and about 75% of the premium for their employees' dependents. The employee pays the remaining fraction of the premium, usually with pre-tax/tax-exempt earnings. These percentages have been stable since 1999. Health benefits provided by employers are also tax-favored: Employee contributions can be made on a pre-tax basis if the employer offers the benefits through a section 125 cafeteria plan.
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.
In addition to medical expense insurance, "health insurance" may also refer to insurance covering disability or long-term nursing or custodial care needs. Different health insurance provides different levels of financial protection and the scope of coverage can vary widely, with more than 40% of insured individuals reporting that their plans do not adequately meet their needs as of 2007.