Before the development of medical expense insurance, patients were expected to pay all other 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. Today, most comprehensive private health insurance programs cover the cost of routine, preventive, and emergency health care procedures, and also most prescription drugs, but this was not always the case. The rise of private insurance was accompanied by the gradual expansion of public insurance programs for those who could not acquire coverage through the market.
Through the 1990s, managed care insurance schemes including health maintenance organizations (HMO), preferred provider organizations, or point of service plans grew from about 25% US employees with employer-sponsored coverage to the vast majority. With managed care, insurers use various techniques to address costs and improve quality, including negotiation of prices ("in-network" providers), utilization management, and requirements for quality assurance such as being accredited by accreditation schemes such as the Joint Commission and the American Accreditation Healthcare Commission.
The public option was featured in three bills considered by the United States House of Representatives in 2009: the proposed Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962), which was passed by the House in 2009, its predecessor, the proposed America's Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200), and a third bill, the Public Option Act, also referred to as the "Medicare You Can Buy Into Act", (H.R. 4789). In the first two bills, the public option took the form of a Qualified Health Benefit Plan competing with similar private insurance plans in an internet-based exchange or marketplace, enabling citizens and small businesses to purchase health insurance meeting a minimum federal standard. The Public Option Act, in contrast, would have allowed all citizens and permanent residents to buy into a public option by participating in the public Medicare program. Individuals covered by other employer plans or by state insurance plans such as Medicare would have not been eligible to obtain coverage from the exchange. The federal government's health insurance plan would have been financed entirely by premiums without subsidy from the Federal government, although some plans called for government seed money to get the programs started.
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.
Costs for employer-paid health insurance are rising rapidly: between 2001 and 2007, premiums for family coverage have increased 78%, while wages have risen 19% and inflation has risen 17%, according to a 2007 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Employer costs have risen noticeably per hour worked, and vary significantly. In particular, average employer costs for health benefits vary by firm size and occupation. The cost per hour of health benefits is generally higher for workers in higher-wage occupations, but represent a smaller percentage of payroll. The percentage of total compensation devoted to health benefits has been rising since the 1960s. Average premiums, including both the employer and employee portions, were $4,704 for single coverage and $12,680 for family coverage in 2008.
Public insurance cover increased from 2000–2010 in part because of an aging population and an economic downturn in the latter part of the decade. Funding for Medicaid and CHIP expanded significantly under the 2010 health reform bill. The proportion of individuals covered by Medicaid increased from 10.5% in 2000 to 14.5% in 2010 and 20% in 2015. The proportion covered by Medicare increased from 13.5% in 2000 to 15.9% in 2010, then decreased to 14% in 2015.