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.
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.
According to a 2007 study, about 59% of employers at small firms (3–199 workers) in the US provide employee health insurance. The percentage of small firms offering coverage has been dropping steadily since 1999. The study notes that cost remains the main reason cited by small firms who do not offer health benefits. Small firms that are new are less likely to offer coverage than ones that have been in existence for a number of years. For example, using 2005 data for firms with fewer than 10 employees, 43% of those that had been in existence at least 20 years offered coverage, but only 24% of those that had been in existence less than 5 years did. The volatility of offer rates from year to year also appears to be higher for newer small businesses.
Nearly one in three patients receiving NHS hospital treatment is privately insured and could have the cost paid for by their insurer. Some private schemes provide cash payments to patients who opt for NHS treatment, to deter use of private facilities. A report, by private health analysts Laing and Buisson, in November 2012, estimated that more than 250,000 operations were performed on patients with private medical insurance each year at a cost of £359 million. In addition, £609 million was spent on emergency medical or surgical treatment. Private medical insurance does not normally cover emergency treatment but subsequent recovery could be paid for if the patient were moved into a private patient unit.
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.
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States regulate small group premium rates, typically by placing limits on the premium variation allowable between groups (rate bands). Insurers price to recover their costs over their entire book of small group business while abiding by state rating rules. Over time, the effect of initial underwriting "wears off" as the cost of a group regresses towards the mean. Recent claim experience—whether better or worse than average—is a strong predictor of future costs in the near term. But the average health status of a particular small employer group tends to regress over time towards that of an average group. The process used to price small group coverage changes when a state enacts small group reform laws.
Out-of-pocket maximum: Similar to coverage limits, except that in this case, the insured person's payment obligation ends when they reach the out-of-pocket maximum, and health insurance pays all further covered costs. Out-of-pocket maximum can be limited to a specific benefit category (such as prescription drugs) or can apply to all coverage provided during a specific benefit year.
Historically, health insurance has been regulated by the states, consistent with the McCarran-Ferguson Act. Details for what health insurance could be sold were up to the states, with a variety of laws and regulations. Model acts and regulations promulgated by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) provide some degree of uniformity state to state. These models do not have the force of law and have no effect unless they are adopted by a state. They are, however, used as guides by most states, and some states adopt them with little or no change.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) enables certain individuals with employer-sponsored coverage to extend their coverage if certain "qualifying events" would otherwise cause them to lose it. Employers may require COBRA-qualified individuals to pay the full cost of coverage, and coverage cannot be extended indefinitely. COBRA only applies to firms with 20 or more employees, although some states also have "mini-COBRA" laws that apply to small employers.
In general, the amount the employer must include is the amount by which the fair market value of the benefits is more than the sum of what the employee paid for it plus any amount that the law excludes. There are other special rules that employers and employees may use to value certain fringe benefits. See Publication 15-B, Employers' Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits, for more information.
Coupled with high-deductible plans are various tax-advantaged savings plans—funds (such as salary) can be placed in a savings plan, and then go to pay the out-of-pocket expenses. This approach to addressing increasing premiums is dubbed "consumer driven health care", and received a boost in 2003, when President George W. Bush signed into law the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. The law created tax-deductible Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), untaxed private bank accounts for medical expenses, which can be established by those who already have health insurance. Withdrawals from HSAs are only penalized if the money is spent on non-medical items or services. Funds can be used to pay for qualified expenses, including doctor's fees, Medicare Parts A and B, and drugs, without being taxed.
The state passed healthcare reform in 2006 in order to greater decrease the uninsured rate among its citizens. The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as "Obamacare") is largely based on Massachusetts' health reform. Due to that colloquialism, the Massachusetts reform has been nicknamed as "Romneycare" after then-Governor Mitt Romney.
Generally, group health insurance plans cover the cost of medical office visits for illness and checkups, hospitalization, emergency room services, ambulance transportation, operations, physical therapy, and even prescription drugs, to provide several examples of potentially covered health care services. But, every plan is different and it behooves an employee to become familiar with the details of his or her employer's plan before the benefit is needed.
According to a 2000 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, Congress passed legislation creating "two new vehicles Association Health Plans (AHPs) and HealthMarts, to facilitate the sale of health insurance coverage to employees of small firms" in response to concerns about the "large and growing number of uninsured people in the United States."
Hospital indemnity insurance provides a fixed daily, weekly or monthly benefit while the insured is confined in a hospital. The payment is not dependent on actual hospital charges, and is most commonly expressed as a flat dollar amount. Hospital indemnity benefits are paid in addition to any other benefits that may be available, and are typically used to pay out-of-pocket and non-covered expenses associated with the primary medical plan, and to help with additional expenses (e.g., child care) incurred while in the hospital.
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.
Accident insurance was first offered in the United States by the Franklin Health Assurance Company of Massachusetts. This firm, founded in 1850, offered insurance against injuries arising from railroad and steamboat accidents. Sixty organizations were offering accident insurance in the US by 1866, but the industry consolidated rapidly soon thereafter. While there were earlier experiments, sickness coverage in the US effectively dates from 1890. The first employer-sponsored group disability policy was issued in 1911, but this plan's primary purpose was replacing wages lost because the worker was unable to work, not medical expenses.