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.

A number of alternatives to the public option were proposed in the Senate. Instead of creating a network of statewide public plans, Senator Olympia Snowe proposed a "trigger" in which a plan would be put into place at some point in the future in states that do not have more than a certain number of private insurance competitors. Senator Tom Carper has proposed an "opt-in" system in which state governments choose for themselves whether or not to institute a public plan. Senator Chuck Schumer has proposed an "opt-out" system in which state governments would initially be part of the network but could choose to avoid offering a public plan.[35]
As per the Constitution of Canada, health care is mainly a provincial government responsibility in Canada (the main exceptions being federal government responsibility for services provided to aboriginal peoples covered by treaties, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the armed forces, and Members of Parliament). Consequently, each province administers its own health insurance program. The federal government influences health insurance by virtue of its fiscal powers – it transfers cash and tax points to the provinces to help cover the costs of the universal health insurance programs. Under the Canada Health Act, the federal government mandates and enforces the requirement that all people have free access to what are termed "medically necessary services," defined primarily as care delivered by physicians or in hospitals, and the nursing component of long-term residential care. If provinces allow doctors or institutions to charge patients for medically necessary services, the federal government reduces its payments to the provinces by the amount of the prohibited charges. Collectively, the public provincial health insurance systems in Canada are frequently referred to as Medicare.[15] This public insurance is tax-funded out of general government revenues, although British Columbia and Ontario levy a mandatory premium with flat rates for individuals and families to generate additional revenues - in essence, a surtax. Private health insurance is allowed, but in six provincial governments only for services that the public health plans do not cover (for example, semi-private or private rooms in hospitals and prescription drug plans). Four provinces allow insurance for services also mandated by the Canada Health Act, but in practice there is no market for it. All Canadians are free to use private insurance for elective medical services such as laser vision correction surgery, cosmetic surgery, and other non-basic medical procedures. Some 65% of Canadians have some form of supplementary private health insurance; many of them receive it through their employers.[16] Private-sector services not paid for by the government account for nearly 30 percent of total health care spending.[17]
Medicare Supplement policies are designed to cover expenses not covered (or only partially covered) by the "original Medicare" (Parts A & B) fee-for-service benefits. They are only available to individuals enrolled in Medicare Parts A & B. Medigap plans may be purchased on a guaranteed issue basis (no health questions asked) during a six-month open enrollment period when an individual first becomes eligible for Medicare.[128] The benefits offered by Medigap plans are standardized.
The Affordable Care Act dramatically expanded Medicaid. The program will now cover everyone with incomes under 133% of the federal poverty level who does not qualify for Medicare, provided this expansion of coverage has been accepted by the state where the person resides. Meanwhile, Medicaid benefits must be the same as the essential benefit in the newly created state exchanges. The federal government will fully fund the expansion of Medicaid initially, with some of the financial responsibility gradually devolving back to the states by 2020.
According to some experts, such as Uwe Reinhardt,[120] Sherry Glied, Megan Laugensen,[121] Michael Porter, and Elizabeth Teisberg,[122] this pricing system is highly inefficient and is a major cause of rising health care costs. Health care costs in the United States vary enormously between plans and geographical regions, even when input costs are fairly similar, and rise very quickly. Health care costs have risen faster than economic growth at least since the 1970s. Public health insurance programs typically have more bargaining power as a result of their greater size and typically pay less for medical services than private plans, leading to slower cost growth, but the overall trend in health care prices have led public programs' costs to grow at a rapid pace as well.
Most FSA participants are middle income Americans, earning approximately $55,000 annually.[110] Individuals and families with chronic illnesses typically receive the most benefit from FSAs; even when insured, they incur annual out-of-pocket expenses averaging $4,398 .[111] Approximately 44 percent of Americans have one or more chronic conditions .[112]
Over time, the operations of many Blue Cross and Blue Shield operations have become more similar to those of commercial health insurance companies.[101] However, some Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans continue to serve as insurers of last resort.[102] 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).[19][95][103] 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.[104]
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was designed primarily to extend health coverage to those without it by expanding Medicaid, creating financial incentives for employers to offer coverage, and requiring those without employer or public coverage to purchase insurance in newly created health insurance exchanges. This requirement for almost all individuals to maintain health insurance is often referred to as the "individual mandate." The CBO has estimated that roughly 33 million who would have otherwise been uninsured will receive coverage because of the act by 2022.[17]
In addition to medical expense insurance, "health insurance" may also refer to insurance covering disability or long-term nursing or custodial care needs. Different health insurance provides different levels of financial protection and the scope of coverage can vary widely, with more than 40% of insured individuals reporting that their plans do not adequately meet their needs as of 2007.[2]
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