Australian health funds can be either 'for profit' including Bupa and nib; 'mutual' including Australian Unity; or 'non-profit' including GMHBA, HCF and the HBF Health Fund (HBF). Some, such as Police Health, have membership restricted to particular groups, but the majority have open membership. Membership to most health funds is now also available through comparison websites like moneytime, Compare the Market, iSelect Ltd., Choosi, ComparingExpert and YouCompare. These comparison sites operate on a commission-basis by agreement with their participating health funds. The Private Health Insurance Ombudsman also operates a free website which allows consumers to search for and compare private health insurers' products, which includes information on price and level of cover.
The types of coverage available to small employers are similar to those offered by large firms, but small businesses do not have the same options for financing their benefit plans. In particular, self-funded health care (whereby an employer provides health or disability benefits to employees with its own funds rather than contracting an insurance company) is not a practical option for most small employers. A RAND Corporation study published in April 2008 found that the cost of health care coverage places a greater burden on small firms, as a percentage of payroll, than on larger firms. A study published by the American Enterprise Institute in August 2008 examined the effect of state benefit mandates on self-employed individuals, and found that "the larger the number of mandates in a state, the lower the probability that a self-employed person will be a significant employment generator." Beneficiary cost sharing is, on average, higher among small firms than large firms.
When small group plans are medically underwritten, employees are asked to provide health information about themselves and their covered family members when they apply for coverage. When determining rates, insurance companies use the medical information on these applications. Sometimes they will request additional information from an applicant's physician or ask the applicants for clarification.
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.
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.
Critics said that "Exemptions would lead to market instability and higher premiums in the traditional small-group market. AHPs exempt from state regulation and oversight would enable them to be more selective about who they cover. They will be less likely to cover higher-risk populations, which would cause an imbalance in the risk pool for other small business health plans that are part of the state small group risk pool. Adverse selection would likely abound and Association Health Plans would be selling an unregulated product alongside small group plans, which creates an unlevel playing field." According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "[p]remiums would go up for those buying in the traditional small-group market." competing against AHPs that offer less expensive and less comprehensive plans.
While politically difficult, some politicians and observers have argued for a single-payer system. A bill, the United States National Health Care Act, was first proposed by Representative John Conyers in 2003 and has been perennially proposed since, including during the debate on the public option and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. President Obama has come out against a single-payer reform at this time, stating in the joint session of Congress that "it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch." Obama had previously expressed that he is a proponent of a single payer universal health care program during an AFL-CIO conference in 2003.
States regulate small group premium rates, typically by placing limits on the premium variation allowable between groups (rate bands). Insurers price to recover their costs over their entire book of small group business while abiding by state rating rules. Over time, the effect of initial underwriting "wears off" as the cost of a group regresses towards the mean. Recent claim experience—whether better or worse than average—is a strong predictor of future costs in the near term. But the average health status of a particular small employer group tends to regress over time towards that of an average group. The process used to price small group coverage changes when a state enacts small group reform laws.
Eligibility: Individuals who need coverage who are legally residing in the U.S. and who are not incarcerated are eligible to purchase coverage through their state’s Marketplace. Small employers with fewer than 50 full-time employers can also purchase coverage through the Marketplace. Insurance companies will not be allowed to deny coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions nor will they be allowed to charge higher premiums to people because of their health status.
You may be able to get extra help to pay for your prescription drug premiums and costs. To see if you qualify for getting extra help, call: 1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227). TTY or TDD users should call 877-486-2048, 24 hours a day/7 days a week; The Social Security Office at 800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. TTY or TDD users should call, 800-325-0778; or Your State Medical Assistance (Medicaid) Office.