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
In 2003, according to the Heartland Institute's Merrill Matthews, association group health insurance plans offered affordable health insurance to "some 6 million Americans." Matthews responded to the criticism that said that some associations work too closely with their insurance providers. He said, "You would expect the head of AARP to have a good working relationship with the CEO of Prudential, which sells policies to AARP's seniors."
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. 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.
Co-payments were introduced in the 1980s in an attempt to prevent over utilization. The average length of hospital stay in Germany has decreased in recent years from 14 days to 9 days, still considerably longer than average stays in the United States (5 to 6 days). Part of the difference is that the chief consideration for hospital reimbursement is the number of hospital days as opposed to procedures or diagnosis. Drug costs have increased substantially, rising nearly 60% from 1991 through 2005. Despite attempts to contain costs, overall health care expenditures rose to 10.7% of GDP in 2005, comparable to other western European nations, but substantially less than that spent in the U.S. (nearly 16% of GDP).
Costs for employer-paid health insurance are rising rapidly: between 2001 and 2007, premiums for family coverage have increased 78%, while wages have risen 19% and inflation has risen 17%, according to a 2007 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Employer costs have risen noticeably per hour worked, and vary significantly. In particular, average employer costs for health benefits vary by firm size and occupation. The cost per hour of health benefits is generally higher for workers in higher-wage occupations, but represent a smaller percentage of payroll. The percentage of total compensation devoted to health benefits has been rising since the 1960s. Average premiums, including both the employer and employee portions, were $4,704 for single coverage and $12,680 for family coverage in 2008.
Health insurance plans are separated into different metal tiers based on the proportion of health care costs the insurance plan is expected to cover. Catastrophic and Bronze plans cover the smallest proportion, having the highest deductibles, copays and coinsurance. On the other end of the spectrum, Platinum plans offer the greatest amount coverage, expected to cover 90% of all costs.
Network-based plans may be either closed or open. With a closed network, enrollees' expenses are generally only covered when they go to network providers. Only limited services are covered outside the network—typically only emergency and out-of-area care. Most traditional HMOs were closed network plans. Open network plans provide some coverage when an enrollee uses non-network provider, generally at a lower benefit level to encourage the use of network providers. Most preferred provider organization plans are open-network (those that are not are often described as exclusive provider organizations, or EPOs), as are point of service (POS) plans.
Employer-sponsored health insurance is paid for by businesses on behalf of their employees as part of an employee benefit package. Most private (non-government) health coverage in the US is employment-based. Nearly all large employers in America offer group health insurance to their employees. The typical large-employer PPO plan is typically more generous than either Medicare or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Standard Option.
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.
In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. It prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions and allows children to remain on their parents' insurance plan until they reach the age of 26. In participating states, the act also expanded Medicaid, a government program that provides medical care for individuals with very low incomes. In addition to these changes, the ACA established the federal Healthcare Marketplace. The marketplace helps individuals and businesses shop for quality insurance plans at affordable rates. Low-income individuals who sign up for insurance through the marketplace may qualify for subsidies to help bring down costs.
Disability income (DI) insurance pays benefits to individuals who become unable to work because of injury or illness. DI insurance replaces income lost while the policyholder is unable to work during a period of disability (in contrast to medical expense insurance, which pays for the cost of medical care). For most working age adults, the risk of disability is greater than the risk of premature death, and the resulting reduction in lifetime earnings can be significant. Private disability insurance is sold on both a group and an individual basis. Policies may be designed to cover long-term disabilities (LTD coverage) or short-term disabilities (STD coverage). Business owners can also purchase disability overhead insurance to cover the overhead expenses of their business while they are unable to work.
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%.
Financial Assistance Available: Most uninsured individuals will qualify for financial assistance called a Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit to help make their insurance premiums affordable. The amount of financial assistance will depend on your income and family size. Individuals with low incomes may qualify for free or very low premiums. To find out how much financial assistance you may qualify for, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation’s subsidy calculator.
Over time, the operations of many Blue Cross and Blue Shield operations have become more similar to those of commercial health insurance companies. However, some Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans continue to serve as insurers of last resort. Similarly, the benefits offered by Blues plans, commercial insurers, and HMOs are converging in many respects because of market pressures. One example is the convergence of preferred provider organization (PPO) plans offered by Blues and commercial insurers and the point of service plans offered by HMOs. Historically, commercial insurers, Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, and HMOs might be subject to different regulatory oversight in a state (e.g., the Department of Insurance for insurance companies, versus the Department of Health for HMOs). Today, it is common for commercial insurance companies to have HMOs as subsidiaries, and for HMOs to have insurers as subsidiaries (the state license for an HMO is typically different from that for an insurance company). At one time the distinctions between traditional indemnity insurance, HMOs and PPOs were very clear; today, it can be difficult to distinguish between the products offered by the various types of organization operating in the market.
Conversely, an IBD/TIPP poll of 1,376 physicians showed that 45% of doctors "would consider leaving or taking early retirement" if Congress passes the health care plan wanted by the White House and Democrats. This poll also found that 65% of physicians oppose the White House and Democratic version of health reform. Statistician and polling expert Nate Silver has criticized that IBD/TIPP poll for what he calls its unusual methodology and bias and for the fact that it was incomplete when published as responses were still coming in.
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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.
The Affordable Care Act dramatically expanded Medicaid. The program will now cover everyone with incomes under 133% of the federal poverty level who does not qualify for Medicare, provided this expansion of coverage has been accepted by the state where the person resides. Meanwhile, Medicaid benefits must be the same as the essential benefit in the newly created state exchanges. The federal government will fully fund the expansion of Medicaid initially, with some of the financial responsibility gradually devolving back to the states by 2020.
The proportion of non-elderly individuals with employer-sponsored cover fell from 66% in 2000 to 56% in 2010, then stabilized following the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Employees who worked part-time (less than 30 hours a week) were less likely to be offered coverage by their employer than were employees who worked full-time (21% vs. 72%).