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.
Supporters of a public plan, such as Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, argue that many places in the United States have monopolies in which one company, or a small set of companies, control the local market for health insurance. Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman also wrote that local insurance monopolies exist in many of the smaller states, accusing those who oppose the idea of a public insurance plan as defenders of local monopolies. He also argued that traditional ideas of beneficial market competition do not apply to the insurance industry given that insurers mainly compete by risk selection, claiming that "[t]he most successful companies are those that do the best job of denying coverage to those who need it most."
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.
California developed a solution to assist people across the state and is one of the few states to have an office devoted to giving people tips and resources to get the best care possible. California's Office of the Patient Advocate was established July 2000 to publish a yearly Health Care Quality Report Card on the top HMOs, PPOs, and Medical Groups and to create and distribute helpful tips and resources to give Californians the tools needed to get the best care.
In recent years, because of health care cost increases, employees are paying an increased percentage of the cost of their health insurance premiums, usually through a payroll deduction. Some plans cover the employee who must pay the cost of insuring family members. Additionally, almost every plan has a co-payment (co-pay) responsibility in which the employee pays a nominal fee to cover a portion of the health care service provided, usually ranging from $10-40.00.
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.
Medicare Levy Surcharge: People whose taxable income is greater than a specified amount (in the 2011/12 financial year $80,000 for singles and $168,000 for couples) and who do not have an adequate level of private hospital cover must pay a 1% surcharge on top of the standard 1.5% Medicare Levy. The rationale is that if the people in this income group are forced to pay more money one way or another, most would choose to purchase hospital insurance with it, with the possibility of a benefit in the event that they need private hospital treatment – rather than pay it in the form of extra tax as well as having to meet their own private hospital costs.
The private health system in Australia operates on a "community rating" basis, whereby premiums do not vary solely because of a person's previous medical history, current state of health, or (generally speaking) their age (but see Lifetime Health Cover below). Balancing this are waiting periods, in particular for pre-existing conditions (usually referred to within the industry as PEA, which stands for "pre-existing ailment"). Funds are entitled to impose a waiting period of up to 12 months on benefits for any medical condition the signs and symptoms of which existed during the six months ending on the day the person first took out insurance. They are also entitled to impose a 12-month waiting period for benefits for treatment relating to an obstetric condition, and a 2-month waiting period for all other benefits when a person first takes out private insurance. Funds have the discretion to reduce or remove such waiting periods in individual cases. They are also free not to impose them to begin with, but this would place such a fund at risk of "adverse selection", attracting a disproportionate number of members from other funds, or from the pool of intending members who might otherwise have joined other funds. It would also attract people with existing medical conditions, who might not otherwise have taken out insurance at all because of the denial of benefits for 12 months due to the PEA Rule. The benefits paid out for these conditions would create pressure on premiums for all the fund's members, causing some to drop their membership, which would lead to further rises in premiums, and a vicious cycle of higher premiums-leaving members would ensue.
The US health insurance market is highly concentrated, as leading insurers have carried out over 400 mergers from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s (decade). In 2000, the two largest health insurers (Aetna and UnitedHealth Group) had total membership of 32 million. By 2006 the top two insurers, WellPoint (now Anthem) and UnitedHealth, had total membership of 67 million. The two companies together had more than 36% of the national market for commercial health insurance. The AMA has said that it "has long been concerned about the impact of consolidated markets on patient care." A 2007 AMA study found that in 299 of the 313 markets surveyed, one health plan accounted for at least 30% of the combined health maintenance organization (HMO)/preferred provider organization (PPO) market. In 90% of markets, the largest insurer controls at least 30% of the market, and the largest insurer controls more than 50% of the market in 54% of metropolitan areas. The US Department of Justice has recognized this percentage of market control as conferring substantial monopsony power in the relations between insurer and physicians.
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.
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.
HSAs are one form of tax-preferenced health care spending accounts. Others include Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Archer Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs), which have been superseded by the new HSAs (although existing MSAs are grandfathered), and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs). These accounts are most commonly used as part of an employee health benefit package. While there are currently no government-imposed limits to FSAs, legislation currently being reconciled between the House of Representatives and Senate would impose a cap of $2,500. While both the House and Senate bills would adjust the cap to inflation, approximately 7 million Americans who use their FSAs to cover out-of-pocket health care expenses greater than $2,500 would be forced to pay higher taxes and health care costs.
Another distinction between plans that can change the rates you pay, is the type of network the plan uses. Depending on whether the plan is a PPO, HMO, EPO or POS plan, consumers will have access to the health care providers managed in different ways. HMOs tend to be the most restrictive about which doctors you can see and what you must do to see them. This usually means that the insurers save on your cost of care and thereby provide lower premiums.