Health insurance is a benefit provided through a government agency, private business, or non-profit organization. To determine cost, a provider estimates collective medical expenses of a population, then divides that risk amongst the group of policy subscribers. In concept, insurers recognize that one person may incur large unexpected expenses, while another may incur none. The expense, then, is spread among a group of individuals to make health care more affordable for the common good of all. In addition, public health programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP are federally-funded and state-run to provide additional medical coverage to those in vulnerable groups who qualify, such as seniors and those with disability.
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.
Provider networks can be used to reduce costs by negotiating favorable fees from providers, selecting cost effective providers, and creating financial incentives for providers to practice more efficiently.[22] A survey issued in 2009 by America's Health Insurance Plans found that patients going to out-of-network providers are sometimes charged extremely high fees.[99][100]
Most provider markets (especially hospitals) are also highly concentrated—roughly 80%, according to criteria established by the FTC and Department of Justice[118]—so insurers usually have little choice about which providers to include in their networks, and consequently little leverage to control the prices they pay. Large insurers frequently negotiate most-favored nation clauses with providers, agreeing to raise rates significantly while guaranteeing that providers will charge other insurers higher rates.[119]

All U.S. citizens living in the United States are subject to the individual shared responsibility provision as are all permanent residents and all foreign nationals who are in the United States long enough during a calendar year to qualify as resident aliens for tax purposes. This category includes nonresident aliens who meet certain presence requirements and elect to be treated as resident aliens. For more information see Pub. 519. More: Shared Responsibility from the IRS (See Question 11)
Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most seniors and also low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors (generally persons aged 65 and over) and certain disabled individuals; Medicaid, funded jointly by the federal government and states but administered at the state level, which covers certain very low income children and their families; and CHIP, also a federal-state partnership that serves certain children and families who do not qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford private coverage. Other public programs include military health benefits provided through TRICARE and the Veterans Health Administration and benefits provided through the Indian Health Service. Some states have additional programs for low-income individuals.[43] In 2011, approximately 60 percent of stays were billed to Medicare and Medicaid—up from 52 percent in 1997.[44]
Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most seniors and also low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors (generally persons aged 65 and over) and certain disabled individuals; Medicaid, funded jointly by the federal government and states but administered at the state level, which covers certain very low income children and their families; and CHIP, also a federal-state partnership that serves certain children and families who do not qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford private coverage. Other public programs include military health benefits provided through TRICARE and the Veterans Health Administration and benefits provided through the Indian Health Service. Some states have additional programs for low-income individuals.[43] In 2011, approximately 60 percent of stays were billed to Medicare and Medicaid—up from 52 percent in 1997.[44]
The shared responsibility provision is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ACA or Obamacare. The goal is to ensure that all US citizens and permanent residents have access to quality health insurance. Any non-resident aliens, including international students on F, J, M and Q visas (and certain family members of students) are not subject to the individual mandate for their first 5 years in the U.S. All other J categories (teacher, trainee, work and travel, au pair, high school, etc.) are not subject to the individual mandate for 2 years (out of the past six).
Health insurance plans are separated into different metal tiers based on the proportion of health care costs the insurance plan is expected to cover. Catastrophic and Bronze plans cover the smallest proportion, having the highest deductibles, copays and coinsurance. On the other end of the spectrum, Platinum plans offer the greatest amount coverage, expected to cover 90% of all costs.
Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.
Coinsurance: Instead of, or in addition to, paying a fixed amount up front (a co-payment), the co-insurance is a percentage of the total cost that insured person may also pay. For example, the member might have to pay 20% of the cost of a surgery over and above a co-payment, while the insurance company pays the other 80%. If there is an upper limit on coinsurance, the policy-holder could end up owing very little, or a great deal, depending on the actual costs of the services they obtain.

Typically, employer-sponsored plans can include a range of plan options. From health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs) to plans that provide additional coverage such as dental insurance, life insurance, short-term disability insurance, and long-term disability insurance, employer-sponsored health plans can be comprehensive to meet the insurance needs of employees.
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]
Medicaid was instituted for the very poor in 1965. Since enrollees must pass a means test, Medicaid is a social welfare or social protection program rather than a social insurance program. Despite its establishment, the percentage of US residents who lack any form of health insurance has increased since 1994.[51] It has been reported that the number of physicians accepting Medicaid has decreased in recent years because of lower reimbursement rates.[52]
Many health insurance plans place dollar limits upon the claims the insurer will pay over the course of a plan year. Beginning September 23, 2010, PPACA phases annual dollar limits will be phased out over the next 3 years until 2014 when they will not be permitted for most plans. There is an exception to this phase out for Grandfathered Plans. Except for Grandfathered Plans, beginning September 23, 2012 annual limits can be no lower than $2 million. Except for Grandfathered Plans, beginning January 1, 2014, all annual dollar limits on coverage of essential health benefits will be prohibited.
Some, if not most, health care providers in the United States will agree to bill the insurance company if patients are willing to sign an agreement that they will be responsible for the amount that the insurance company doesn't pay. The insurance company pays out of network providers according to "reasonable and customary" charges, which may be less than the provider's usual fee. The provider may also have a separate contract with the insurer to accept what amounts to a discounted rate or capitation to the provider's standard charges. It generally costs the patient less to use an in-network provider.
A survey designed and conducted by Drs. Salomeh Keyhani and Alex Federman of Mount Sinai School of Medicine done over the summer of 2009 found that 73% of doctors supported a public option.[53] A survey reported by the New England Journal of Medicine in September, based on a random sample of 6,000 physicians from the American Medical Association, stated that "it seems clear that the majority of U.S. physicians support using both public and private insurance options to expand coverage."[54]

Plans with much higher deductibles than traditional health plans—primarily providing coverage for catastrophic illness—have been introduced.[105] Because of the high deductible, these provide little coverage for everyday expenses—and thus have potentially high out-of-pocket expenses—but do cover major expenses. Couple with these are various forms of savings plans.

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Provider networks can be used to reduce costs by negotiating favorable fees from providers, selecting cost effective providers, and creating financial incentives for providers to practice more efficiently.[22] A survey issued in 2009 by America's Health Insurance Plans found that patients going to out-of-network providers are sometimes charged extremely high fees.[99][100]
Since 1974, New Zealand has had a system of universal no-fault health insurance for personal injuries through the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). The ACC scheme covers most of the costs of related to treatment of injuries acquired in New Zealand (including overseas visitors) regardless of how the injury occurred, and also covers lost income (at 80 percent of the employee's pre-injury income) and costs related to long-term rehabilitation, such as home and vehicle modifications for those seriously injured. Funding from the scheme comes from a combination of levies on employers' payroll (for work injuries), levies on an employee's taxable income (for non-work injuries to salary earners), levies on vehicle licensing fees and petrol (for motor vehicle accidents), and funds from the general taxation pool (for non-work injuries to children, senior citizens, unemployed people, overseas visitors, etc.)
Before the development of medical expense insurance, patients were expected to pay health care costs out of their own pockets, under what is known as the fee-for-service business model. During the middle-to-late 20th century, traditional disability insurance evolved into modern health insurance programs. One major obstacle to this development was that early forms of comprehensive health insurance were enjoined by courts for violating the traditional ban on corporate practice of the professions by for-profit corporations.[66] State legislatures had to intervene and expressly legalize health insurance as an exception to that traditional rule. Today, most comprehensive private health insurance programs cover the cost of routine, preventive, and emergency health care procedures, and most prescription drugs (but this is not always the case).

Health insurance can be tricky to navigate. Managed care insurance plans require policyholders to receive care from a network of designated health care providers for the highest level of coverage. If patients seek care outside the network, they must pay a higher percentage of the cost. In some cases, the insurance company may even refuse payment outright for services obtained out of network. Many managed care plans require patients to choose a primary care physician who oversees the patient's care and makes recommendations about treatment. Insurance companies may also deny coverage for services that were obtained without preauthorization. In addition, insurers may refuse payment for name-brand drugs if a generic version or comparable medication is available at a lower cost.
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.
Health insurance can be tricky to navigate. Managed care insurance plans require policyholders to receive care from a network of designated health care providers for the highest level of coverage. If patients seek care outside the network, they must pay a higher percentage of the cost. In some cases, the insurance company may even refuse payment outright for services obtained out of network. Many managed care plans require patients to choose a primary care physician who oversees the patient's care and makes recommendations about treatment. Insurance companies may also deny coverage for services that were obtained without preauthorization. In addition, insurers may refuse payment for name-brand drugs if a generic version or comparable medication is available at a lower cost.

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]
Prescription drug plans are a form of insurance offered through some health insurance plans. In the U.S., the patient usually pays a copayment and the prescription drug insurance part or all of the balance for drugs covered in the formulary of the plan. Such plans are routinely part of national health insurance programs. For example, in the province of Quebec, Canada, prescription drug insurance is universally required as part of the public health insurance plan, but may be purchased and administered either through private or group plans, or through the public plan.[4]
As far as the compulsory health insurance is concerned, the insurance companies cannot set any conditions relating to age, sex or state of health for coverage. Although the level of premium can vary from one company to another, they must be identical within the same company for all insured persons of the same age group and region, regardless of sex or state of health. This does not apply to complementary insurance, where premiums are risk-based.

Lifetime Health Cover: If a person has not taken out private hospital cover by 1 July after their 31st birthday, then when (and if) they do so after this time, their premiums must include a loading of 2% per annum for each year they were without hospital cover. Thus, a person taking out private cover for the first time at age 40 will pay a 20 percent loading. The loading is removed after 10 years of continuous hospital cover. The loading applies only to premiums for hospital cover, not to ancillary (extras) cover.
Most aspects of private health insurance in Australia are regulated by the Private Health Insurance Act 2007. Complaints and reporting of the private health industry is carried out by an independent government agency, the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman. The ombudsman publishes an annual report that outlines the number and nature of complaints per health fund compared to their market share [10]

Ultimately, the public option was removed from the final bill. While the United States House of Representatives passed a public option in their version of the bill, the public option was voted down in the Senate Finance Committee[8] and the public option was never included in the final Senate bill, instead opting for state-directed health insurance exchanges.[9] Critics of the removal of the public option accused President Obama of making an agreement to drop the public option from the final plan,[10] but the record showed that the agreement was based on vote counts rather than backroom deals, as substantiated by the final vote in the Senate.[11]

In July 2009, Save Flexible Spending Plans, a national grassroots advocacy organization, was formed to protect against the restricted use of FSAs in health care reform efforts, Save Flexible Spending Accounts is sponsored by the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC), a non-profit organization "dedicated to the maintenance and expansion of the private employee benefits on a tax-advantaged basis".[109] ECFC members include companies such as WageWorks Inc., a benefits provider based in San Mateo, California.
Insurance plans with higher out-of-pocket costs generally have smaller monthly premiums than plans with low deductibles. When shopping for plans, individuals must weigh the benefits of lower monthly costs against the potential risk of large out-of-pocket expenses in the case of a major illness or accident. Health insurance has many cousins, such as disability insurance, critical (catastrophic) illness insurance, and long-term care (LTC) insurance.
Many health insurance plans place dollar limits upon the claims the insurer will pay over the course of a plan year. Beginning September 23, 2010, PPACA phases annual dollar limits will be phased out over the next 3 years until 2014 when they will not be permitted for most plans. There is an exception to this phase out for Grandfathered Plans. Except for Grandfathered Plans, beginning September 23, 2012 annual limits can be no lower than $2 million. Except for Grandfathered Plans, beginning January 1, 2014, all annual dollar limits on coverage of essential health benefits will be prohibited.
Cost assistance is available to help lower the monthly expense of health insurance. Know as a tax credit or tax subsidy, federal money helps those that make between 100%-400% of the Federal Poverty Level. (For an individual that is between $11,770 – $47,080, depending on the state.) With cost assistance, individuals paid an average of less than $100 a month for a plan on the marketplace in 2015. That is a $268 savings each month.
Effective group health plan years beginning after September 23, 2010, if an employer-sponsored health plan allows employees' children to enroll in coverage, then the health plan must allow employees' adult children to enroll as well as long as the adult child is not yet age 26. Some group health insurance plans may also require that the adult child not be eligible for other group health insurance coverage, but only before 2014.[78]
Individuals injured on the job while employed by private companies or state and local government agencies should contact their state workers' compensation board. The Department of Labor has several programs designed to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. You may obtain information about these programs by visiting the Workplace Safety & Health page.
Most provider markets (especially hospitals) are also highly concentrated—roughly 80%, according to criteria established by the FTC and Department of Justice[118]—so insurers usually have little choice about which providers to include in their networks, and consequently little leverage to control the prices they pay. Large insurers frequently negotiate most-favored nation clauses with providers, agreeing to raise rates significantly while guaranteeing that providers will charge other insurers higher rates.[119]
The employer typically makes a substantial contribution towards the cost of coverage. Typically, employers pay about 85% of the insurance premium for their employees, and about 75% of the premium for their employees' dependents. The employee pays the remaining fraction of the premium, usually with pre-tax/tax-exempt earnings. These percentages have been stable since 1999.[58] Health benefits provided by employers are also tax-favored: Employee contributions can be made on a pre-tax basis if the employer offers the benefits through a section 125 cafeteria plan.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows qualifying individuals and families to receive financial assistance to help cover the cost of premiums. Known as the Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit, this subsidy helps people who need health insurance afford their coverage. Healthcare.gov provides a single location where you find out whether you are eligible for the premium tax credit and shop for and compare the different health insurance plans available to you in your state.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) enables certain individuals with employer-sponsored coverage to extend their coverage if certain "qualifying events" would otherwise cause them to lose it. Employers may require COBRA-qualified individuals to pay the full cost of coverage, and coverage cannot be extended indefinitely. COBRA only applies to firms with 20 or more employees, although some states also have "mini-COBRA" laws that apply to small employers.
Nearly one in three patients receiving NHS hospital treatment is privately insured and could have the cost paid for by their insurer. Some private schemes provide cash payments to patients who opt for NHS treatment, to deter use of private facilities. A report, by private health analysts Laing and Buisson, in November 2012, estimated that more than 250,000 operations were performed on patients with private medical insurance each year at a cost of £359 million. In addition, £609 million was spent on emergency medical or surgical treatment. Private medical insurance does not normally cover emergency treatment but subsequent recovery could be paid for if the patient were moved into a private patient unit.[44]
Insurance plans with higher out-of-pocket costs generally have smaller monthly premiums than plans with low deductibles. When shopping for plans, individuals must weigh the benefits of lower monthly costs against the potential risk of large out-of-pocket expenses in the case of a major illness or accident. Health insurance has many cousins, such as disability insurance, critical (catastrophic) illness insurance, and long-term care (LTC) insurance.

Health insurance primarily protects individuals from the prohibitively high costs of surgical procedures, inpatient hospital care, and emergency attention. Though health insurance itself can become costly for a family, it is only a small fraction of the potential costs associated with unforeseen illnesses and emergencies (for example, the diagnosis and treatment of cancer or a heart attack).
Prescription drug plans are a form of insurance offered through some health insurance plans. In the U.S., the patient usually pays a copayment and the prescription drug insurance part or all of the balance for drugs covered in the formulary of the plan. Such plans are routinely part of national health insurance programs. For example, in the province of Quebec, Canada, prescription drug insurance is universally required as part of the public health insurance plan, but may be purchased and administered either through private or group plans, or through the public plan.[4]
The public health insurance option, also known as the public insurance option or the public option, is a proposal to create a government-run health insurance agency that would compete with other private health insurance companies within the United States. The public option is not the same as publicly funded health care, but was proposed as an alternative health insurance plan offered by the government. The public option was initially proposed for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but was removed after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) threatened a filibuster.[1][2]

Dental insurance helps pay for the cost of necessary dental care. Few medical expense plans include coverage for dental expenses. About 97% of dental benefits in the United States is provided through separate policies from carriers—both stand-alone and medical affiliates—that specialize in this coverage. Typically, these dental plans offer comprehensive preventive benefits. However, major dental expenses, such as crowns and root canals, are just partially covered. Also, most carriers offer a lower rate if you select a plan that utilizes their Network providers. Discount dental programs are also available. These do not constitute insurance, but provide participants with access to discounted fees for dental work.
Historically, health insurance has been regulated by the states, consistent with the McCarran-Ferguson Act. Details for what health insurance could be sold were up to the states, with a variety of laws and regulations. Model acts and regulations promulgated by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) provide some degree of uniformity state to state. These models do not have the force of law and have no effect unless they are adopted by a state. They are, however, used as guides by most states, and some states adopt them with little or no change.
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