Hospital and medical expense policies were introduced during the first half of the 20th century. During the 1920s, individual hospitals began offering services to individuals on a pre-paid basis, eventually leading to the development of Blue Cross organizations. The predecessors of today's Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) originated beginning in 1929, through the 1930s and on during World War II.
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.
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.
Since people who lack health insurance are unable to obtain timely medical care, they have a 40% higher risk of death in any given year than those with health insurance, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study estimated that in 2005 in the United States, there were 45,000 deaths associated with lack of health insurance. A 2008 systematic review found consistent evidence that health insurance increased utilization of services and improved health.
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.
Hospital indemnity insurance provides a fixed daily, weekly or monthly benefit while the insured is confined in a hospital. The payment is not dependent on actual hospital charges, and is most commonly expressed as a flat dollar amount. Hospital indemnity benefits are paid in addition to any other benefits that may be available, and are typically used to pay out-of-pocket and non-covered expenses associated with the primary medical plan, and to help with additional expenses (e.g., child care) incurred while in the hospital.
Scheduled health insurance plans are an expanded form of Hospital Indemnity plans. In recent years, these plans have taken the name mini-med plans or association plans. These plans may provide benefits for hospitalization, surgical, and physician services. However, they are not meant to replace a traditional comprehensive health insurance plan. Scheduled health insurance plans are more of a basic policy providing access to day-to-day health care such as going to the doctor or getting a prescription drug, but these benefits will be limited and are not meant to be effective for catastrophic events. Payments are based upon the plan's "schedule of benefits" and are usually paid directly to the service provider. These plans cost much less than comprehensive health insurance. Annual benefit maximums for a typical scheduled health insurance plan may range from $1,000 to $25,000.
Michael F. Cannon, a senior fellow of the libertarian CATO Institute, has argued that the federal government can hide inefficiencies in its administration and draw away consumers from private insurance even if the government offers an inferior product. A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that profits accounted for only about 4 or 5 percent of private health insurance premiums, and Cannon argued that the lack of a profit motive reduces incentives to eliminate wasteful administrative costs.
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.
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.