Insurance against loss by illness or bodily injury. Health insurance provides coverage for medicine, visits to the doctor or emergency room, hospital stays and other medical expenses. Policies differ in what they cover, the size of the deductible and/or co-payment, limits of coverage and the options for treatment available to the policyholder. Health insurance can be directly purchased by an individual, or it may be provided through an employer. Medicare and Medicaid are programs which provide health insurance to elderly, disabled, or un-insured individuals.
The resulting programme is profession-based: all people working are required to pay a portion of their income to a not-for-profit health insurance fund, which mutualises the risk of illness, and which reimburses medical expenses at varying rates. Children and spouses of insured people are eligible for benefits, as well. Each fund is free to manage its own budget, and used to reimburse medical expenses at the rate it saw fit, however following a number of reforms in recent years, the majority of funds provide the same level of reimbursement and benefits.
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.
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.
Opposite to high-deductible plans are plans which provide limited benefits—up to a low level—have also been introduced. These limited medical benefit plans pay for routine care and do not pay for catastrophic care, they do not provide equivalent financial security to a major medical plan. Annual benefit limits can be as low as $2,000. Lifetime maximums can be very low as well.
You may be able to get extra help to pay for your prescription drug premiums and costs. To see if you qualify for getting extra help, call: 1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227). TTY or TDD users should call 877-486-2048, 24 hours a day/7 days a week; The Social Security Office at 800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. TTY or TDD users should call, 800-325-0778; or Your State Medical Assistance (Medicaid) Office.