High-quality health care affects health and wellness. A health insurance policy is a contract between an insurance company and a policy holder intended to safeguard against high and unexpected health care costs. Although policy-holders pay a monthly premium, co-payments, co-insurance, and deductibles, it is expected that the total is far less than that required if paid fully out-of-pocket.
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.
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.
Health insurance primarily protects individuals from the prohibitively high costs of surgical procedures, inpatient hospital care, and emergency attention. Though health insurance itself can become costly for a family, it is only a small fraction of the potential costs associated with unforeseen illnesses and emergencies (for example, the diagnosis and treatment of cancer or a heart attack).
Workers who receive employer-sponsored health insurance tend to be paid less in cash wages than they would be without the benefit, because of the cost of insurance premiums to the employer and the value of the benefit to the worker. The value to workers is generally greater than the wage reduction because of economies of scale, a reduction in adverse selection pressures on the insurance pool (premiums are lower when all employees participate rather than just the sickest), and reduced income taxes. Disadvantages to workers include disruptions related to changing jobs, the regressive tax effect (high-income workers benefit far more from the tax exemption for premiums than low-income workers), and increased spending on healthcare.
In addition to such public plans as Medicare and Medicaid, the federal government also sponsors a health benefit plan for federal employees—the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). FEHBP provides health benefits to full-time civilian employees. Active-duty service members, retired service members and their dependents are covered through the Department of Defense Military Health System (MHS). FEHBP is managed by the federal Office of Personnel Management.
The 1960 Kerr-Mills Act provided matching funds to states assisting patients with their medical bills. In the early 1960s, Congress rejected a plan to subsidize private coverage for people with Social Security as unworkable, and an amendment to the Social Security Act creating a publicly run alternative was proposed. Finally, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare and Medicaid programs into law in 1965, creating publicly run insurance for the elderly and the poor. Medicare was later expanded to cover people with disabilities, end-stage renal disease, and ALS.
Medicare Advantage plans expand the health insurance options for people with Medicare. Medicare Advantage was created under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, with the intent to better control the rapid growth in Medicare spending, as well as to provide Medicare beneficiaries more choices. But on average, Medicare Advantage plans cost 12% more than traditional Medicare. The ACA took steps to align payments to Medicare Advantage plans with the cost of traditional Medicare.
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.