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 in the 1930s. The first employer-sponsored hospitalization plan was created by teachers in Dallas, Texas in 1929. Because the plan only covered members' expenses at a single hospital, it is also the forerunner of today's health maintenance organizations (HMOs).
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. 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). 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. 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.
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. 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.
Efforts to pass a national pool were unsuccessful for many years. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it became easier for people with pre-existing conditions to afford regular insurance, since all insurers are fully prohibited from discriminating against or charging higher rates for any individuals based on pre-existing medical conditions. Therefore, most of the state-based pools shut down. As of 2017, some remain due to statutes which have not been updated, but they also may cover people with gaps in coverage such as undocumented immigrants or Medicare-eligible individuals under the age of 65.
Some, if not most, health care providers in the United States will agree to bill the insurance company if patients are willing to sign an agreement that they will be responsible for the amount that the insurance company doesn't pay. The insurance company pays out of network providers according to "reasonable and customary" charges, which may be less than the provider's usual fee. The provider may also have a separate contract with the insurer to accept what amounts to a discounted rate or capitation to the provider's standard charges. It generally costs the patient less to use an in-network provider.
Health insurance can be tricky to navigate. Managed care insurance plans require policyholders to receive care from a network of designated health care providers for the highest level of coverage. If patients seek care outside the network, they must pay a higher percentage of the cost. In some cases, the insurance company may even refuse payment outright for services obtained out of network. Many managed care plans require patients to choose a primary care physician who oversees the patient's care and makes recommendations about treatment. Insurance companies may also deny coverage for services that were obtained without preauthorization. In addition, insurers may refuse payment for name-brand drugs if a generic version or comparable medication is available at a lower cost.
Health insurance in the United States is any program that helps pay for medical expenses, whether through privately purchased insurance, social insurance, or a social welfare program funded by the government. Synonyms for this usage include "health coverage", "health care coverage", and "health benefits". In a more technical sense, the term "health insurance" is used to describe any form of insurance providing protection against the costs of medical services. This usage includes private insurance and social insurance programs such as Medicare, which pools resources and spreads the financial risk associated with major medical expenses across the entire population to protect everyone, as well as social welfare programs like Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, which both provide assistance to people who cannot afford health coverage.