Broader levels of health insurance coverage generally have higher premium costs. In many cases, the insured party is responsible for paying his/her healthcare provider an up-front, tax deductible amount called co-pay. Health insurance companies then may compensate healthcare providers directly or reimburse the policy holder based on the remaining portion of an itemized bill.

The blurring of distinctions between the different types of health care coverage can be seen in the history of the industry's trade associations. The two primary HMO trade associations were the Group Health Association of America and the American Managed Care and Review Association. After merging, they were known as American Association of Health Plans (AAHP). The primary trade association for commercial health insurers was the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA). These two have now merged, and are known as America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

However, with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, effective since 2014, federal laws have created some uniformity in partnership with the existing state-based system. Insurers are prohibited from discriminating against or charging higher rates for individuals based on pre-existing medical conditions and must offer a standard set of coverage.[31][32]
Employer-sponsored health insurance plans dramatically expanded as a direct result of wage controls imposed by the federal government during World War II.[20] The labor market was tight because of the increased demand for goods and decreased supply of workers during the war. Federally imposed wage and price controls prohibited manufacturers and other employers from raising wages enough to attract workers. When the War Labor Board declared that fringe benefits, such as sick leave and health insurance, did not count as wages for the purpose of wage controls, employers responded with significantly increased offers of fringe benefits, especially health care coverage, to attract workers.[20]
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.
A survey designed and conducted by Drs. Salomeh Keyhani and Alex Federman of Mount Sinai School of Medicine done over the summer of 2009 found that 73% of doctors supported a public option.[53] A survey reported by the New England Journal of Medicine in September, based on a random sample of 6,000 physicians from the American Medical Association, stated that "it seems clear that the majority of U.S. physicians support using both public and private insurance options to expand coverage."[54]
States regulate small group premium rates, typically by placing limits on the premium variation allowable between groups (rate bands). Insurers price to recover their costs over their entire book of small group business while abiding by state rating rules.[74] Over time, the effect of initial underwriting "wears off" as the cost of a group regresses towards the mean. Recent claim experience—whether better or worse than average—is a strong predictor of future costs in the near term. But the average health status of a particular small employer group tends to regress over time towards that of an average group.[75] The process used to price small group coverage changes when a state enacts small group reform laws.[76]

An alternative proposal is to subsidize private, non-profit health insurance cooperatives to get them to become large and established enough to possibly provide cost savings[27][28] Democratic politicians such as Howard Dean were critical of abandoning a public option in favor of co-ops, raising questions about the ability of the cooperatives to compete with existing private insurers.[6] Paul Krugman also questioned the ability of cooperatives to compete.[29]
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.[14] A 2008 systematic review found consistent evidence that health insurance increased utilization of services and improved health.[15]