The United States health care system relies heavily on private health insurance, which is the primary source of coverage for most Americans. As of 2012 about 61% of Americans had private health insurance according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[56] The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that in 2011, private insurance was billed for 12.2 million U.S. inpatient hospital stays and incurred approximately $112.5 billion in aggregate inpatient hospital costs (29% of the total national aggregate costs).[57] Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most senior citizens and for low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors and certain disabled individuals; and 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. Together, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for approximately 63 percent of the national inpatient hospital costs in 2011.[57] SCHIP is 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.[58]
Public polling consistently showed majority support for a public option. A July 2009 survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that 28% of Americans would like to purchase a public plan while 53% would prefer to have a private plan. It also stated that 69% would support its creation in the first place.[42] Survey USA estimated that the majority of Americans (77%) feel that it is either "Quite Important" or "Extremely Important" to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance" in August 2009.[43] A Rasmussen Reports poll taken on August 17–18 stated that 57% of Americans did not support the current health care bill being considered by Congress that did not include a public option,[44] a change from their findings in July 2009.[45] A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted August 15–17, found that 47% of Americans opposed the idea of a public option and 43% expressed support.[46] A Pew Research Center report published on October 8, 2009 stated that 55% of Americans favor a government health insurance plan to compete with private plans. The results were very similar to their polling from July, which found 52% support.[47] An October 2009 Washington Post/ABC poll showed 57% support,[48] a USA Today/Gallup survey described by a USA Today article on October 27 found that 50% of Americans supported a government plan proposal,[49] and a poll from November 10 and 11 by Angus Reid Public Opinion found that 52% of Americans supported a public plan.[50] On October 27, journalist Ray Suarez of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer noted that "public opinion researchers say the tide has been shifting over the last several weeks, and now is not spectacularly, but solidly in favor of a public option."[51]

The share of Americans without health insurance has been cut in half since 2013. Many of the reforms instituted by the Affordable Care Act of 2010 were designed to extend health care coverage to those without it; however, high cost growth continues unabated.[3] National health expenditures are projected to grow 4.7% per person per year from 2016 to 2025. Public healthcare spending was 29% of federal mandated spending in 1990 and 35% of it in 2000. It is also projected to be roughly half in 2025.[4]
However, with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, effective since 2014, federal laws have created some uniformity in partnership with the existing state-based system. Insurers are prohibited from discriminating against or charging higher rates for individuals based on pre-existing medical conditions and must offer a standard set of coverage.[31][32]
The US health insurance market is highly concentrated, as leading insurers have carried out over 400 mergers from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s (decade). In 2000, the two largest health insurers (Aetna and UnitedHealth Group) had total membership of 32 million. By 2006 the top two insurers, WellPoint (now Anthem) and UnitedHealth, had total membership of 67 million. The two companies together had more than 36% of the national market for commercial health insurance. The AMA has said that it "has long been concerned about the impact of consolidated markets on patient care." A 2007 AMA study found that in 299 of the 313 markets surveyed, one health plan accounted for at least 30% of the combined health maintenance organization (HMO)/preferred provider organization (PPO) market. In 90% of markets, the largest insurer controls at least 30% of the market, and the largest insurer controls more than 50% of the market in 54% of metropolitan areas.[116] The US Department of Justice has recognized this percentage of market control as conferring substantial monopsony power in the relations between insurer and physicians.[117]

Early hospital and medical plans offered by insurance companies paid either a fixed amount for specific diseases or medical procedures (schedule benefits) or a percentage of the provider's fee. The relationship between the patient and the medical provider was not changed. The patient received medical care and was responsible for paying the provider. If the service was covered by the policy, the insurance company was responsible for reimbursing or indemnifying the patient based on the provisions of the insurance contract ("reimbursement benefits"). Health insurance plans that are not based on a network of contracted providers, or that base payments on a percentage of provider charges, are still described as indemnity or fee-for-service plans.[19]


In addition to such public plans as Medicare and Medicaid, the federal government also sponsors a health benefit plan for federal employees—the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). FEHBP provides health benefits to full-time civilian employees. Active-duty service members, retired service members and their dependents are covered through the Department of Defense Military Health System (MHS). FEHBP is managed by the federal Office of Personnel Management.
However, in a 2007 analysis, the Employee Benefit Research Institute concluded that the availability of employment-based health benefits for active workers in the US is stable. The "take-up rate," or percentage of eligible workers participating in employer-sponsored plans, has fallen somewhat, but not sharply. EBRI interviewed employers for the study, and found that others might follow if a major employer discontinued health benefits. Effective by January 1, 2014, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will impose a $2000 per employee tax penalty on employers with over 50 employees who do not offer health insurance to their full-time workers. (In 2008, over 95% of employers with at least 50 employees offered health insurance.[63])[64] On the other hand, public policy changes could also result in a reduction in employer support for employment-based health benefits.[65]

Deductible: The amount that the insured must pay out-of-pocket before the health insurer pays its share. For example, policy-holders might have to pay a $500 deductible per year, before any of their health care is covered by the health insurer. It may take several doctor's visits or prescription refills before the insured person reaches the deductible and the insurance company starts to pay for care. Furthermore, most policies do not apply co-pays for doctor's visits or prescriptions against your deductible.
The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a joint state/federal program to provide health insurance to children in families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private insurance. The statutory authority for CHIP is under title XXI of the Social Security Act. CHIP programs are run by the individual states according to requirements set by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and may be structured as independent programs separate from Medicaid (separate child health programs), as expansions of their Medicaid programs (CHIP Medicaid expansion programs), or combine these approaches (CHIP combination programs). States receive enhanced federal funds for their CHIP programs at a rate above the regular Medicaid match.
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.
Beginning with 10% of blue-collar workers in 1885, mandatory insurance has expanded; in 2009, insurance was made mandatory on all citizens, with private health insurance for the self-employed or above an income threshold.[23][24] As of 2016, 85% of the population is covered by the compulsory Statutory Health Insurance (SHI)[25] (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung or GKV), with the remainder covered by private insurance (Private Krankenversicherung or PKV) Germany's health care system was 77% government-funded and 23% privately funded as of 2004.[26] While public health insurance contributions are based on the individual's income, private health insurance contributions are based on the individual's age and health condition.[23][27]
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 U.S. by 1866, but the industry consolidated rapidly soon thereafter. While there were earlier experiments, the origins of sickness coverage in the U.S. effectively date from 1890. The first employer-sponsored group disability policy was issued in 1911.[65]
The 1960 Kerr-Mills Act provided matching funds to states assisting patients with their medical bills. In the early 1960s, Congress rejected a plan to subsidize private coverage for people with Social Security as unworkable, and an amendment to the Social Security Act creating a publicly run alternative was proposed. Finally, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare and Medicaid programs into law in 1965, creating publicly run insurance for the elderly and the poor.[29] Medicare was later expanded to cover people with disabilities, end-stage renal disease, and ALS.

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.


On the whole, uninsured Americans have worse health outcomes; cancers and other deadly diseases, for example, are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages in uninsured people. Uninsured pregnant women use fewer prenatal services and uninsured children and adults are less likely than their insured counterparts to have a primary care doctor whom they trust.
The US has a joint federal and state system for regulating insurance, with the federal government ceding primary responsibility to the states under the McCarran-Ferguson Act. States regulate the content of health insurance policies and often require coverage of specific types of medical services or health care providers.[54][55] State mandates generally do not apply to the health plans offered by large employers, because of the preemption clause of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Health insurance companies are not actually providing traditional insurance, which involves the pooling of risk, because the vast majority of purchasers actually do face the harms that they are "insuring" against. Instead, as Edward Beiser and Jacob Appel have separately argued, health insurers are better thought of as low-risk money managers who pocket the interest on what are really long-term healthcare savings accounts.[131][132]
In January 2013, Representative Jan Schakowsky and 44 other U.S. House of Representatives Democrats introduced H.R. 261, the "Public Option Deficit Reduction Act", which would amend the Affordable Care Act to create a public option. The bill would set up a government-run health insurance plan with premiums 5% to 7% percent lower than private insurance. The Congressional Budget Office estimated it would reduce the United States public debt by $104 billion over 10 years.[12] Representative Schakowsky reintroduced the bill as H.R. 265 in January 2015, where it gained 35 cosponsors.[13]
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).
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 the United States, Medicare is a federal social insurance program that provides health insurance to people over the age of 65, individuals who become totally and permanently disabled, end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients, and people with ALS. Recent research has found that the health trends of previously uninsured adults, especially those with chronic health problems, improves once they enter the Medicare program.[45] Traditional Medicare requires considerable cost-sharing, but ninety percent of Medicare enrollees have some kind of supplemental insurance—either employer-sponsored or retiree coverage, Medicaid, or a private Medigap plan—that covers some or all of their cost-sharing.[46] With supplemental insurance, Medicare ensures that its enrollees have predictable, affordable health care costs regardless of unforeseen illness or injury.
As the population covered by Medicare grows, its costs are projected to rise from slightly over 3 percent of GDP to over 6 percent, contributing substantially to the federal budget deficit.[47] In 2011, Medicare was the primary payer for an estimated 15.3 million inpatient stays, representing 47.2 percent ($182.7 billion) of total aggregate inpatient hospital costs in the United States.[12] The Affordable Care Act took some steps to reduce Medicare spending, and various other proposals are circulating to reduce it further.

Health insurance companies are not actually providing traditional insurance, which involves the pooling of risk, because the vast majority of purchasers actually do face the harms that they are "insuring" against. Instead, as Edward Beiser and Jacob Appel have separately argued, health insurers are better thought of as low-risk money managers who pocket the interest on what are really long-term healthcare savings accounts.[131][132]

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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