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.
Fringe benefits are generally included in an employee’s gross income (there are some exceptions). The benefits are subject to income tax withholding and employment taxes. Fringe benefits include cars and flights on aircraft that the employer provides, free or discounted commercial flights, vacations, discounts on property or services, memberships in country clubs or other social clubs, and tickets to entertainment or sporting events.
Health insurance absorbs or offsets healthcare costs associated with, but not limited to, routine health examinations, specialist referral visits, inpatient and outpatient surgery, unforeseen eventualities such as illnesses or injuries, and prescription medication. Health insurance policies are categorized as privately paid for by an individual, publicly provided as a service through Social Security, or commercially arranged by a company as part of an employee benefit package.
Still, private insurance remained unaffordable or simply unavailable to many, including the poor, the unemployed, and the elderly. Before 1965, only half of seniors had health care coverage, and they paid three times as much as younger adults, while having lower incomes. Consequently, interest persisted in creating public health insurance for those left out of the private marketplace.
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.