Erica Block is an Editorial Fellow at HealthCare.com, where she gets to combine her interest in healthcare policy with her penchant for creating online content. When she isn't reading or writing, Erica can be found wandering around Brooklyn, playing softball, or listening to podcasts. She counts music, rescue dogs, and lumberjack sports among her greatest passions. Follow Erica on Twitter: @EricaDaleBlock
The terms "open panel" and "closed panel" are sometimes used to describe which health care providers in a community have the opportunity to participate in a plan. In a "closed panel" HMO, the network providers are either HMO employees (staff model) or members of large group practices with which the HMO has a contract. In an "open panel" plan the HMO or PPO contracts with independent practitioners, opening participation in the network to any provider in the community that meets the plan's credential requirements and is willing to accept the terms of the plan's contract.
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. 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.
Health insurance is a benefit provided through a government agency, private business, or non-profit organization. To determine cost, a provider estimates collective medical expenses of a population, then divides that risk amongst the group of policy subscribers. In concept, insurers recognize that one person may incur large unexpected expenses, while another may incur none. The expense, then, is spread among a group of individuals to make health care more affordable for the common good of all. In addition, public health programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP are federally-funded and state-run to provide additional medical coverage to those in vulnerable groups who qualify, such as seniors and those with disability.
The blurring of distinctions between the different types of health care coverage can be seen in the history of the industry's trade associations. The two primary HMO trade associations were the Group Health Association of America and the American Managed Care and Review Association. After merging, they were known as American Association of Health Plans (AAHP). The primary trade association for commercial health insurers was the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA). These two have now merged, and are known as America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).
Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most seniors and also low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors (generally persons aged 65 and over) and certain disabled individuals; Medicaid, funded jointly by the federal government and states but administered at the state level, which covers certain very low income children and their families; and CHIP, also a federal-state partnership that serves certain children and families who do not qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford private coverage. Other public programs include military health benefits provided through TRICARE and the Veterans Health Administration and benefits provided through the Indian Health Service. Some states have additional programs for low-income individuals. In 2011, approximately 60 percent of stays were billed to Medicare and Medicaid—up from 52 percent in 1997.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, health advocacy companies began to appear to help patients deal with the complexities of the healthcare system. The complexity of the healthcare system has resulted in a variety of problems for the American public. A study found that 62 percent of persons declaring bankruptcy in 2007 had unpaid medical expenses of $1000 or more, and in 92% of these cases the medical debts exceeded $5000. Nearly 80 percent who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance. The Medicare and Medicaid programs were estimated to soon account for 50 percent of all national health spending. These factors and many others fueled interest in an overhaul of the health care system in the United States. In 2010 President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This Act includes an 'individual mandate' that every American must have medical insurance (or pay a fine). Health policy experts such as David Cutler and Jonathan Gruber, as well as the American medical insurance lobby group America's Health Insurance Plans, argued this provision was required in order to provide "guaranteed issue" and a "community rating," which address unpopular features of America's health insurance system such as premium weightings, exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and the pre-screening of insurance applicants. During 26–28 March, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the validity of the Act. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was determined to be constitutional on 28 June 2012. The Supreme Court determined that Congress had the authority to apply the individual mandate within its taxing powers.
Medicaid was instituted for the very poor in 1965. Since enrollees must pass a means test, Medicaid is a social welfare or social protection program rather than a social insurance program. Despite its establishment, the percentage of US residents who lack any form of health insurance has increased since 1994. It has been reported that the number of physicians accepting Medicaid has decreased in recent years because of lower reimbursement rates.
Both before and after passage in the House, significant controversy surrounded the Stupak–Pitts Amendment, added to the bill to prohibit coverage of abortions – with limited exceptions – in the public option or in any of the health insurance exchange's private plans sold to customers receiving federal subsidies. In mid-November, it was reported that 40 House Democrats would not support a final bill containing the Amendment's provisions. The Amendment was abandoned after a deal was struck between Representative Bart Stupak and his voting bloc would vote for the bill as written in exchange for the signing of Executive Order 13535.
The types of coverage available to small employers are similar to those offered by large firms, but small businesses do not have the same options for financing their benefit plans. In particular, self-funded health care (whereby an employer provides health or disability benefits to employees with its own funds rather than contracting an insurance company) is not a practical option for most small employers. A RAND Corporation study published in April 2008 found that the cost of health care coverage places a greater burden on small firms, as a percentage of payroll, than on larger firms. A study published by the American Enterprise Institute in August 2008 examined the effect of state benefit mandates on self-employed individuals, and found that "the larger the number of mandates in a state, the lower the probability that a self-employed person will be a significant employment generator." Beneficiary cost sharing is, on average, higher among small firms than large firms.
Health insurance plans are separated into different metal tiers based on the proportion of health care costs the insurance plan is expected to cover. Catastrophic and Bronze plans cover the smallest proportion, having the highest deductibles, copays and coinsurance. On the other end of the spectrum, Platinum plans offer the greatest amount coverage, expected to cover 90% of all costs.
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.
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.
Research available health insurance providers. Does a parent’s employer offer insurance plans? If so, when is enrollment and what are the options? Does the parent belong to any clubs, special interest groups, or organizations that offer health insurance? Are they eligible and approved for any government insurance plans? Do they want to pursue an independent provider?
If an employer pays the cost of an accident or health insurance plan for his/her employees, including an employee’s spouse and dependents, the employer’s payments are not wages and are not subject to Social Security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes, or federal income tax withholding. Generally, this exclusion also applies to qualified long-term care insurance contracts. However, the cost of health insurance benefits must be included in the wages of S corporation employees who own more than two percent of the S corporation (two percent shareholders).
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.
However, in a 2007 analysis, the Employee Benefit Research Institute concluded that the availability of employment-based health benefits for active workers in the US is stable. The "take-up rate," or percentage of eligible workers participating in employer-sponsored plans, has fallen somewhat, but not sharply. EBRI interviewed employers for the study, and found that others might follow if a major employer discontinued health benefits. Effective by January 1, 2014, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will impose a $2000 per employee tax penalty on employers with over 50 employees who do not offer health insurance to their full-time workers. (In 2008, over 95% of employers with at least 50 employees offered health insurance.) On the other hand, public policy changes could also result in a reduction in employer support for employment-based health benefits.
Workers who receive employer-sponsored health insurance tend to be paid less in cash wages than they would be without the benefit, because of the cost of insurance premiums to the employer and the value of the benefit to the worker. The value to workers is generally greater than the wage reduction because of economies of scale, a reduction in adverse selection pressures on the insurance pool (premiums are lower when all employees participate rather than just the sickest), and reduced income taxes. Disadvantages to workers include disruptions related to changing jobs, the regressive tax effect (high-income workers benefit far more from the tax exemption for premiums than low-income workers), and increased spending on healthcare.
According to some experts, such as Uwe Reinhardt, Sherry Glied, Megan Laugensen, Michael Porter, and Elizabeth Teisberg, this pricing system is highly inefficient and is a major cause of rising health care costs. Health care costs in the United States vary enormously between plans and geographical regions, even when input costs are fairly similar, and rise very quickly. Health care costs have risen faster than economic growth at least since the 1970s. Public health insurance programs typically have more bargaining power as a result of their greater size and typically pay less for medical services than private plans, leading to slower cost growth, but the overall trend in health care prices have led public programs' costs to grow at a rapid pace as well.
In 1935 the decision was made by the Roosevelt Administration not to include a large-scale health insurance program as part of the new Social Security program. The problem was not an attack by any organized opposition, such as the opposition from the American Medical Association that derailed Truman's proposals in 1949. Instead, there was a lack of active popular, congressional, or interest group support. Roosevelt's strategy was to wait for a demand and a program to materialize, and then if he thought it popular enough to throw his support behind it. His Committee on Economic Security (CES) deliberately limited the health segment of Social Security to the expansion of medical care and facilities. It considered unemployment insurance to be the major priority. Roosevelt assured the medical community that medicine would be kept out of politics. Jaap Kooijman says he succeeded in "pacifying the opponents without discouraging the reformers." The right moment never came for him to reintroduce the topic.