The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) is a federation of 38 separate health insurance organizations and companies in the United States. Combined, they directly or indirectly provide health insurance to over 100 million Americans. BCBSA insurance companies are franchisees, independent of the association (and traditionally each other), offering insurance plans within defined regions under one or both of the association's brands. Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers offer some form of health insurance coverage in every U.S. state, and also act as administrators of Medicare in many states or regions of the United States, and provide coverage to state government employees as well as to federal government employees under a nationwide option of the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan.
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.
Michael F. Cannon, a senior fellow of the libertarian CATO Institute, has argued that the federal government can hide inefficiencies in its administration and draw away consumers from private insurance even if the government offers an inferior product. A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that profits accounted for only about 4 or 5 percent of private health insurance premiums, and Cannon argued that the lack of a profit motive reduces incentives to eliminate wasteful administrative costs.
Health insurance in the United States is any program that helps pay for medical expenses, whether through privately purchased insurance, social insurance, or a social welfare program funded by the government. Synonyms for this usage include "health coverage", "health care coverage", and "health benefits". In a more technical sense, the term "health insurance" is used to describe any form of insurance providing protection against the costs of medical services. This usage includes private insurance and social insurance programs such as Medicare, which pools resources and spreads the financial risk associated with major medical expenses across the entire population to protect everyone, as well as social welfare programs like Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, which both provide assistance to people who cannot afford health coverage.