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.
Employer-sponsored health insurance plans dramatically expanded as a direct result of wage controls imposed by the federal government during World War II. The labor market was tight because of the increased demand for goods and decreased supply of workers during the war. Federally imposed wage and price controls prohibited manufacturers and other employers from raising wages enough to attract workers. When the War Labor Board declared that fringe benefits, such as sick leave and health insurance, did not count as wages for the purpose of wage controls, employers responded with significantly increased offers of fringe benefits, especially health care coverage, to attract workers.
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.
Individual and family health insurance plans can help cover expenses in the case of serious medical emergencies, and help you and your family stay on top of preventative health-care services. Having health insurance coverage can save you money on doctor's visits, prescriptions drugs, preventative care and other health-care services. Typical health insurance plans for individuals include costs such as a monthly premium, annual deductible, copayments, and coinsurance.