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.
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.
The United States health care system relies heavily on private health insurance, which is the primary source of coverage for most Americans. As of 2012 about 61% of Americans had private health insurance according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that in 2011, private insurance was billed for 12.2 million U.S. inpatient hospital stays and incurred approximately $112.5 billion in aggregate inpatient hospital costs (29% of the total national aggregate costs). Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most senior citizens and for low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors and certain disabled individuals; and 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. Together, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for approximately 63 percent of the national inpatient hospital costs in 2011. SCHIP is 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.
The Affordable Care Act dramatically expanded Medicaid. The program will now cover everyone with incomes under 133% of the federal poverty level who does not qualify for Medicare, provided this expansion of coverage has been accepted by the state where the person resides. Meanwhile, Medicaid benefits must be the same as the essential benefit in the newly created state exchanges. The federal government will fully fund the expansion of Medicaid initially, with some of the financial responsibility gradually devolving back to the states by 2020.
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.
Americans are required to carry medical insurance that meets federally designated minimum standards or face a tax penalty. In certain cases, taxpayers may qualify for an exemption from the penalty if they were unable to obtain insurance due to financial hardship or other situations. Two public health insurance plans, Medicare and the Children's Health Insurance Program, target older individuals and children, respectively. Medicare also serves people with certain disabilities. The program is available to anyone age 65 or older. The CHIP plan has income limits and covers babies and children up to the age of 18.
In January 2013, Representative Jan Schakowsky and 44 other U.S. House of Representatives Democrats introduced H.R. 261, the "Public Option Deficit Reduction Act", which would amend the 2010 Affordable Care Act to create a public option. The bill would set up a government-run health insurance plan with premiums 5% to 7% percent lower than private insurance, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating a reduction in the United States public debt by $104 billion over 10 years.
Employers and employees may have some choice in the details of plans, including health savings accounts, deductible, and coinsurance. As of 2015, a trend has emerged for employers to offer high-deductible plans, called consumer-driven healthcare plans which place more costs on employees; some employers will offer multiple plans to their employees.
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.
Hospital and medical expense policies were introduced during the first half of the 20th century. During the 1920s, individual hospitals began offering services to individuals on a pre-paid basis, eventually leading to the development of Blue Cross organizations in the 1930s. The first employer-sponsored hospitalization plan was created by teachers in Dallas, Texas in 1929. Because the plan only covered members' expenses at a single hospital, it is also the forerunner of today's health maintenance organizations (HMOs).
The proportion of non-elderly individuals with employer-sponsored cover fell from 66% in 2000 to 56% in 2010, then stabilized following the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Employees who worked part-time (less than 30 hours a week) were less likely to be offered coverage by their employer than were employees who worked full-time (21% vs. 72%).