PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) - A type of insurance plan that offers more extensive coverage for the services of healthcare providers who are part of the plan's network, but still offers some coverage for providers who are not part of the plan's network. PPO plans generally offer more flexibility than HMO plans, but premiums tend to be higher.
Having health insurance is important for several reasons. Uninsured people receive less medical care and less timely care, they have worse health outcomes, and lack of insurance is a fiscal burden for them and their families. Moreover, the benefits of expanding coverage outweigh the costs for added services. Safety-net care from hospitals and clinics improves access to care but does not fully substitute for health insurance. These findings are supported by much research, although some cautions are appropriate in using these results.

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.[54][55] 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.


Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most seniors and also low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors (generally persons aged 65 and over) and certain disabled individuals; 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; and CHIP, also 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.[43] In 2011, approximately 60 percent of stays were billed to Medicare and Medicaid—up from 52 percent in 1997.[44]
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".[109] ECFC members include companies such as WageWorks Inc., a benefits provider based in San Mateo, California.
Typically, employer-sponsored plans can include a range of plan options. From health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs) to plans that provide additional coverage such as dental insurance, life insurance, short-term disability insurance, and long-term disability insurance, employer-sponsored health plans can be comprehensive to meet the insurance needs of employees.
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".[109] ECFC members include companies such as WageWorks Inc., a benefits provider based in San Mateo, California.

News Flash: The health insurance landscape has changed. Individuals who once could buy health insurance whenever they wanted are now forced to act like traditional company employees, and only enroll in a health insurance plan during an annual open enrollment period. However, life can throw curve balls, and leave an individual without health insurance outside…

The bottom line? Uninsured people tend to be sicker and are more likely to die prematurely than their peers who do have health insurance.  Even adults who are young and healthy can benefit from preventive care, annual checkups and chronic disease management – be it for allergies, depression, asthma, diabetes or another type of condition. And women, in particular, benefit from gynecological and reproductive care.
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.
The Commonwealth Fund completed its thirteenth annual health policy survey in 2010.[8] A study of the survey "found significant differences in access, cost burdens, and problems with health insurance that are associated with insurance design".[8] Of the countries surveyed, the results indicated that people in the United States had more out-of-pocket expenses, more disputes with insurance companies than other countries, and more insurance payments denied; paperwork was also higher although Germany had similarly high levels of paperwork.[8]
Public polling consistently showed majority support for a public option. A July 2009 survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that 28% of Americans would like to purchase a public plan while 53% would prefer to have a private plan. It also stated that 69% would support its creation in the first place.[42] Survey USA estimated that the majority of Americans (77%) feel that it is either "Quite Important" or "Extremely Important" to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance" in August 2009.[43] A Rasmussen Reports poll taken on August 17–18 stated that 57% of Americans did not support the current health care bill being considered by Congress that did not include a public option,[44] a change from their findings in July 2009.[45] A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted August 15–17, found that 47% of Americans opposed the idea of a public option and 43% expressed support.[46] A Pew Research Center report published on October 8, 2009 stated that 55% of Americans favor a government health insurance plan to compete with private plans. The results were very similar to their polling from July, which found 52% support.[47] An October 2009 Washington Post/ABC poll showed 57% support,[48] a USA Today/Gallup survey described by a USA Today article on October 27 found that 50% of Americans supported a government plan proposal,[49] and a poll from November 10 and 11 by Angus Reid Public Opinion found that 52% of Americans supported a public plan.[50] On October 27, journalist Ray Suarez of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer noted that "public opinion researchers say the tide has been shifting over the last several weeks, and now is not spectacularly, but solidly in favor of a public option."[51]
Coinsurance: Instead of, or in addition to, paying a fixed amount up front (a co-payment), the co-insurance is a percentage of the total cost that insured person may also pay. For example, the member might have to pay 20% of the cost of a surgery over and above a co-payment, while the insurance company pays the other 80%. If there is an upper limit on coinsurance, the policy-holder could end up owing very little, or a great deal, depending on the actual costs of the services they obtain.
The remaining 45% of health care funding comes from insurance premiums paid by the public, for which companies compete on price, though the variation between the various competing insurers is only about 5%.[citation needed] However, insurance companies are free to sell additional policies to provide coverage beyond the national minimum. These policies do not receive funding from the equalization pool, but cover additional treatments, such as dental procedures and physiotherapy, which are not paid for by the mandatory policy.[citation needed]
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.[106]
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.

In general, the amount the employer must include is the amount by which the fair market value of the benefits is more than the sum of what the employee paid for it plus any amount that the law excludes. There are other special rules that employers and employees may use to value certain fringe benefits. See Publication 15-B, Employers' Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits, for more information.


A number of alternatives to the public option were proposed in the Senate. Instead of creating a network of statewide public plans, Senator Olympia Snowe proposed a "trigger" in which a plan would be put into place at some point in the future in states that do not have more than a certain number of private insurance competitors. Senator Tom Carper has proposed an "opt-in" system in which state governments choose for themselves whether or not to institute a public plan. Senator Chuck Schumer has proposed an "opt-out" system in which state governments would initially be part of the network but could choose to avoid offering a public plan.[35]
The Commonwealth Fund, in its annual survey, "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall", compares the performance of the health care systems in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and the U.S. Its 2007 study found that, although the U.S. system is the most expensive, it consistently under-performs compared to the other countries.[6] One difference between the U.S. and the other countries in the study is that the U.S. is the only country without universal health insurance coverage.
The employer typically makes a substantial contribution towards the cost of coverage. Typically, employers pay about 85% of the insurance premium for their employees, and about 75% of the premium for their employees' dependents. The employee pays the remaining fraction of the premium, usually with pre-tax/tax-exempt earnings. These percentages have been stable since 1999.[58] Health benefits provided by employers are also tax-favored: Employee contributions can be made on a pre-tax basis if the employer offers the benefits through a section 125 cafeteria plan.
The national system of health insurance was instituted in 1945, just after the end of the Second World War. It was a compromise between Gaullist and Communist representatives in the French parliament. The Conservative Gaullists were opposed to a state-run healthcare system, while the Communists were supportive of a complete nationalisation of health care along a British Beveridge model.
In recent years, because of health care cost increases, employees are paying an increased percentage of the cost of their health insurance premiums, usually through a payroll deduction. Some plans cover the employee who must pay the cost of insuring family members. Additionally, almost every plan has a co-payment (co-pay) responsibility in which the employee pays a nominal fee to cover a portion of the health care service provided, usually ranging from $10-40.00.
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.[citation needed] Lifetime maximums can be very low as well.[citation needed]
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.[69] 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.[70]

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.
In 2006, a new system of health insurance came into force in the Netherlands. This new system avoids the two pitfalls of adverse selection and moral hazard associated with traditional forms of health insurance by using a combination of regulation and an insurance equalization pool. Moral hazard is avoided by mandating that insurance companies provide at least one policy which meets a government set minimum standard level of coverage, and all adult residents are obliged by law to purchase this coverage from an insurance company of their choice. All insurance companies receive funds from the equalization pool to help cover the cost of this government-mandated coverage. This pool is run by a regulator which collects salary-based contributions from employers, which make up about 50% of all health care funding, and funding from the government to cover people who cannot afford health care, which makes up an additional 5%.[31]

Before the development of medical expense insurance, patients were expected to pay 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. One major obstacle to this development was that early forms of comprehensive health insurance were enjoined by courts for violating the traditional ban on corporate practice of the professions by for-profit corporations.[66] State legislatures had to intervene and expressly legalize health insurance as an exception to that traditional rule. Today, most comprehensive private health insurance programs cover the cost of routine, preventive, and emergency health care procedures, and most prescription drugs (but this is not always the case).
Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most seniors and also low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors (generally persons aged 65 and over) and certain disabled individuals; 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; and CHIP, also 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.[43] In 2011, approximately 60 percent of stays were billed to Medicare and Medicaid—up from 52 percent in 1997.[44]
Bärnighausen, Till; Sauerborn, Rainer (May 2002). "One hundred and eighteen years of the German health insurance system: are there any lessons for middle- and low income countries?" (PDF). Social Science & Medicine. 54 (10): 1559–87. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(01)00137-X. PMID 12061488. Retrieved 10 March 2013. As Germany has the world's oldest SHI [social health insurance] system, it naturally lends itself to historical analyses.
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."[79] 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.[79][82]
Erica Block is an Editorial Fellow at HealthCare.com, where she gets to combine her interest in healthcare policy with her penchant for creating online content. When she isn't reading or writing, Erica can be found wandering around Brooklyn, playing softball, or listening to podcasts. She counts music, rescue dogs, and lumberjack sports among her greatest passions. Follow Erica on Twitter: @EricaDaleBlock

President Harry S. Truman proposed a system of public health insurance in his November 19, 1945, address. He envisioned a national system that would be open to all Americans, but would remain optional. Participants would pay monthly fees into the plan, which would cover the cost of any and all medical expenses that arose in a time of need. The government would pay for the cost of services rendered by any doctor who chose to join the program. In addition, the insurance plan would give cash to the policy holder to replace wages lost because of illness or injury. The proposal was quite popular with the public, but it was fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce, the American Hospital Association, and the AMA, which denounced it as "socialism".[25]
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