Health insurance isn’t just about access to healthcare – it’s also about protection from financial ruin. Insurance can be expensive, but lacking coverage can cost much more. No one is invincible; anybody can be injured in a car accident, or receive an unexpected diagnosis. While it’s unclear whether poor health begets financial insecurity or vice versa, the correlation between not having health insurance and financial instability is indisputable. Indeed, medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy filings among Americans.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, health advocacy companies began to appear to help patients deal with the complexities of the healthcare system. The complexity of the healthcare system has resulted in a variety of problems for the American public. A study found that 62 percent of persons declaring bankruptcy in 2007 had unpaid medical expenses of $1000 or more, and in 92% of these cases the medical debts exceeded $5000. Nearly 80 percent who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance. The Medicare and Medicaid programs were estimated to soon account for 50 percent of all national health spending. These factors and many others fueled interest in an overhaul of the health care system in the United States. In 2010 President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This Act includes an 'individual mandate' that every American must have medical insurance (or pay a fine). Health policy experts such as David Cutler and Jonathan Gruber, as well as the American medical insurance lobby group America's Health Insurance Plans, argued this provision was required in order to provide "guaranteed issue" and a "community rating," which address unpopular features of America's health insurance system such as premium weightings, exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and the pre-screening of insurance applicants. During 26–28 March, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the validity of the Act. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was determined to be constitutional on 28 June 2012. The Supreme Court determined that Congress had the authority to apply the individual mandate within its taxing powers.
The compulsory insurance can be supplemented by private "complementary" insurance policies that allow for coverage of some of the treatment categories not covered by the basic insurance or to improve the standard of room and service in case of hospitalisation. This can include complementary medicine, routine dental treatment and private ward hospitalisation, which are not covered by the compulsory insurance.
Employers and employees may have some choice in the details of plans, including health savings accounts, deductible, and coinsurance. As of 2015, a trend has emerged for employers to offer high-deductible plans, called consumer-driven healthcare plans which place more costs on employees; some employers will offer multiple plans to their employees.
High-quality health care affects health and wellness. A health insurance policy is a contract between an insurance company and a policy holder intended to safeguard against high and unexpected health care costs. Although policy-holders pay a monthly premium, co-payments, co-insurance, and deductibles, it is expected that the total is far less than that required if paid fully out-of-pocket.
Prior to the ACA as of 2007, about 9% of Americans were covered under health insurance purchased directly, with average out-of-pocket spending is higher in the individual market, with higher deductibles, co-payments and other cost-sharing provisions. While self-employed individuals receive a tax deduction for their health insurance and can buy health insurance with additional tax benefits, most consumers in the individual market do not receive any tax benefit.
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". ECFC members include companies such as WageWorks Inc., a benefits provider based in San Mateo, California.
Coupled with high-deductible plans are various tax-advantaged savings plans—funds (such as salary) can be placed in a savings plan, and then go to pay the out-of-pocket expenses. This approach to addressing increasing premiums is dubbed "consumer driven health care", and received a boost in 2003, when President George W. Bush signed into law the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. The law created tax-deductible Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), untaxed private bank accounts for medical expenses, which can be established by those who already have health insurance. Withdrawals from HSAs are only penalized if the money is spent on non-medical items or services. Funds can be used to pay for qualified expenses, including doctor's fees, Medicare Parts A and B, and drugs, without being taxed.
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.
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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.) On the other hand, public policy changes could also result in a reduction in employer support for employment-based health benefits.
Conversely, an IBD/TIPP poll of 1,376 physicians showed that 45% of doctors "would consider leaving or taking early retirement" if Congress passes the health care plan wanted by the White House and Democrats. This poll also found that 65% of physicians oppose the White House and Democratic version of health reform. Statistician and polling expert Nate Silver has criticized that IBD/TIPP poll for what he calls its unusual methodology and bias and for the fact that it was incomplete when published as responses were still coming in.
Funding from the equalization pool is distributed to insurance companies for each person they insure under the required policy. However, high-risk individuals get more from the pool, and low-income persons and children under 18 have their insurance paid for entirely. Because of this, insurance companies no longer find insuring high risk individuals an unappealing proposition, avoiding the potential problem of adverse selection.
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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.
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. The US Department of Justice has recognized this percentage of market control as conferring substantial monopsony power in the relations between insurer and physicians.
Opposite to high-deductible plans are plans which provide limited benefits—up to a low level—have also been introduced. These limited medical benefit plans pay for routine care and do not pay for catastrophic care, they do not provide equivalent financial security to a major medical plan. Annual benefit limits can be as low as $2,000. Lifetime maximums can be very low as well.
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) is a publicly funded healthcare system that provides coverage to everyone normally resident in the UK. It is not strictly an insurance system because (a) there are no premiums collected, (b) costs are not charged at the patient level and (c) costs are not pre-paid from a pool. However, it does achieve the main aim of insurance which is to spread financial risk arising from ill-health. The costs of running the NHS (est. £104 billion in 2007-8) are met directly from general taxation. The NHS provides the majority of health care in the UK, including primary care, in-patient care, long-term health care, ophthalmology, and dentistry.
The average rates paid for health insurance plans are inversely related to the amount of coverage they provide, with Platinum plans being the most expensive and Bronze / Catastrophic plans being the cheapest. The following table shows the average rates a 21 year old would pay for individual health insurance based on plans in the different tiers. Older consumers would see their plans increase according to the age scale set by the federal guidelines.
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).