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.
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.
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." 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.
Private health insurance may be purchased on a group basis (e.g., by a firm to cover its employees) or purchased by individual consumers. Most Americans with private health insurance receive it through an employer-sponsored program. According to the United States Census Bureau, some 60% of Americans are covered through an employer, while about 9% purchase health insurance directly. Private insurance was billed for 12.2 million inpatient hospital stays in 2011, incurring approximately 29% ($112.5 billion) of the total aggregate inpatient hospital costs in the United States.
Before the development of medical expense insurance, patients were expected to pay all other 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. Today, most comprehensive private health insurance programs cover the cost of routine, preventive, and emergency health care procedures, and also most prescription drugs, but this was not always the case. The rise of private insurance was accompanied by the gradual expansion of public insurance programs for those who could not acquire coverage through the market.
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.
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.
The public health insurance option, also known as the public insurance option or the public option, is a proposal to create a government-run health insurance agency that would compete with other private health insurance companies within the United States. The public option is not the same as publicly funded health care, but was proposed as an alternative health insurance plan offered by the government. The public option was initially proposed for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but was removed after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) threatened a filibuster.
Foreseeing a long and costly political battle, many labor unions chose to campaign for employer-sponsored coverage, which they saw as a less desirable but more achievable goal, and as coverage expanded the national insurance system lost political momentum and ultimately failed to pass. Using health care and other fringe benefits to attract the best employees, private sector, white-collar employers nationwide expanded the U.S. health care system. Public sector employers followed suit in an effort to compete. Between 1940 and 1960, the total number of people enrolled in health insurance plans grew seven-fold, from 20,662,000 to 142,334,000, and by 1958, 75% of Americans had some form of health coverage.
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.
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.