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.[1][2]
Supporters of a public plan, such as Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, argue that many places in the United States have monopolies in which one company, or a small set of companies, control the local market for health insurance. Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman also wrote that local insurance monopolies exist in many of the smaller states, accusing those who oppose the idea of a public insurance plan as defenders of local monopolies. He also argued that traditional ideas of beneficial market competition do not apply to the insurance industry given that insurers mainly compete by risk selection, claiming that "[t]he most successful companies are those that do the best job of denying coverage to those who need it most."[20]
Long-term care (LTC) insurance reimburses the policyholder for the cost of long-term or custodial care services designed to minimize or compensate for the loss of functioning due to age, disability or chronic illness.[126] LTC has many surface similarities to long-term disability insurance. There are at least two fundamental differences, however. LTC policies cover the cost of certain types of chronic care, while long-term-disability policies replace income lost while the policyholder is unable to work. For LTC, the event triggering benefits is the need for chronic care, while the triggering event for disability insurance is the inability to work.[123]
Some, if not most, health care providers in the United States will agree to bill the insurance company if patients are willing to sign an agreement that they will be responsible for the amount that the insurance company doesn't pay. The insurance company pays out of network providers according to "reasonable and customary" charges, which may be less than the provider's usual fee. The provider may also have a separate contract with the insurer to accept what amounts to a discounted rate or capitation to the provider's standard charges. It generally costs the patient less to use an in-network provider.
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.[56] The typical large-employer PPO plan is typically more generous than either Medicare or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Standard Option.[57]
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.
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.[20] 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.[20]
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
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).
The US health insurance market is highly concentrated, as leading insurers have carried out over 400 mergers from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s (decade). In 2000, the two largest health insurers (Aetna and UnitedHealth Group) had total membership of 32 million. By 2006 the top two insurers, WellPoint (now Anthem) and UnitedHealth, had total membership of 67 million. The two companies together had more than 36% of the national market for commercial health insurance. The AMA has said that it "has long been concerned about the impact of consolidated markets on patient care." A 2007 AMA study found that in 299 of the 313 markets surveyed, one health plan accounted for at least 30% of the combined health maintenance organization (HMO)/preferred provider organization (PPO) market. In 90% of markets, the largest insurer controls at least 30% of the market, and the largest insurer controls more than 50% of the market in 54% of metropolitan areas.[116] The US Department of Justice has recognized this percentage of market control as conferring substantial monopsony power in the relations between insurer and physicians.[117]
In 2009, the main representative body of British Medical physicians, the British Medical Association, adopted a policy statement expressing concerns about developments in the health insurance market in the UK. In its Annual Representative Meeting which had been agreed earlier by the Consultants Policy Group (i.e. Senior physicians) stating that the BMA was "extremely concerned that the policies of some private healthcare insurance companies are preventing or restricting patients exercising choice about (i) the consultants who treat them; (ii) the hospital at which they are treated; (iii) making top up payments to cover any gap between the funding provided by their insurance company and the cost of their chosen private treatment." It went in to "call on the BMA to publicise these concerns so that patients are fully informed when making choices about private healthcare insurance."[41] The practice of insurance companies deciding which consultant a patient may see as opposed to GPs or patients is referred to as Open Referral.[42] The NHS offers patients a choice of hospitals and consultants and does not charge for its services.
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.

Early hospital and medical plans offered by insurance companies paid either a fixed amount for specific diseases or medical procedures (schedule benefits) or a percentage of the provider's fee. The relationship between the patient and the medical provider was not changed. The patient received medical care and was responsible for paying the provider. If the service was covered by the policy, the insurance company was responsible for reimbursing or indemnifying the patient based on the provisions of the insurance contract ("reimbursement benefits"). Health insurance plans that are not based on a network of contracted providers, or that base payments on a percentage of provider charges, are still described as indemnity or fee-for-service plans.[19]


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.
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]
The public option was featured in three bills considered by the United States House of Representatives in 2009: the proposed Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962), which was passed by the House in 2009, its predecessor, the proposed America's Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200), and a third bill, the Public Option Act, also referred to as the "Medicare You Can Buy Into Act", (H.R. 4789). In the first two bills, the public option took the form of a Qualified Health Benefit Plan competing with similar private insurance plans in an internet-based exchange or marketplace, enabling citizens and small businesses to purchase health insurance meeting a minimum federal standard. The Public Option Act, in contrast, would have allowed all citizens and permanent residents to buy into a public option by participating in the public Medicare program. Individuals covered by other employer plans or by state insurance plans such as Medicare would have not been eligible to obtain coverage from the exchange. The federal government's health insurance plan would have been financed entirely by premiums without subsidy from the Federal government,[3] although some plans called for government seed money to get the programs started.[4]
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).

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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.
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.
Michael F. Cannon, a senior fellow of the libertarian CATO Institute, has argued that the federal government can hide inefficiencies in its administration and draw away consumers from private insurance even if the government offers an inferior product. A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that profits accounted for only about 4 or 5 percent of private health insurance premiums, and Cannon argued that the lack of a profit motive reduces incentives to eliminate wasteful administrative costs.[38]
A Health care sharing ministry is an organization that facilitates sharing of health care costs between individual members who have common ethical or religious beliefs. Though a health care sharing ministry is not an insurance company, members are exempted from the individual responsibility requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.[115]
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) enables certain individuals with employer-sponsored coverage to extend their coverage if certain "qualifying events" would otherwise cause them to lose it. Employers may require COBRA-qualified individuals to pay the full cost of coverage, and coverage cannot be extended indefinitely. COBRA only applies to firms with 20 or more employees, although some states also have "mini-COBRA" laws that apply to small employers.
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.[55] 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.[56]
Over time, the operations of many Blue Cross and Blue Shield operations have become more similar to those of commercial health insurance companies.[101] However, some Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans continue to serve as insurers of last resort.[102] 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).[19][95][103] 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.[104]
In the late 1990s federal legislation had been proposed to "create federally-recognized Association Health Plans which was then "referred to in some bills as 'Small Business Health Plans.'[79] The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), which is the "standard-setting and regulatory of chief insurance regulators from all states, the District of Columbia and territories, cautioned against implementing AHPs citing "plan failures like we saw The Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements (MEWAs) in the 1990s."[80] "[S]mall businesses in California such as dairy farmers, car dealers, and accountants created AHPs "to buy health insurance on the premise that a bigger pool of enrollees would get them a better deal."[81] A November 2017 article in the Los Angeles Times described how there were only 4 remaining AHPs in California. Many of the AHPs filed for bankruptcy, "sometimes in the wake of fraud." State legislators were forced to pass "sweeping changes in the 1990s" that almost made AHPs extinct.[81]

While politically difficult, some politicians and observers have argued for a single-payer system.[30] A bill, the United States National Health Care Act, was first proposed by Representative John Conyers in 2003[31] and has been perennially proposed since, including during the debate on the public option and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.[32] President Obama has come out against a single-payer reform at this time, stating in the joint session of Congress that "it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch."[33] Obama had previously expressed that he is a proponent of a single payer universal health care program during an AFL-CIO conference in 2003.[34]


However, in a 2007 analysis, the Employee Benefit Research Institute concluded that the availability of employment-based health benefits for active workers in the US is stable. The "take-up rate," or percentage of eligible workers participating in employer-sponsored plans, has fallen somewhat, but not sharply. EBRI interviewed employers for the study, and found that others might follow if a major employer discontinued health benefits. Effective by January 1, 2014, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will impose a $2000 per employee tax penalty on employers with over 50 employees who do not offer health insurance to their full-time workers. (In 2008, over 95% of employers with at least 50 employees offered health insurance.[63])[64] On the other hand, public policy changes could also result in a reduction in employer support for employment-based health benefits.[65]
Private Health Insurance Rebate: The government subsidises the premiums for all private health insurance cover, including hospital and ancillary (extras), by 10%, 20% or 30%, depending on age. The Rudd Government announced in May 2009 that as of July 2010, the Rebate would become means-tested, and offered on a sliding scale. While this move (which would have required legislation) was defeated in the Senate at the time, in early 2011 the Gillard Government announced plans to reintroduce the legislation after the Opposition loses the balance of power in the Senate. The ALP and Greens have long been against the rebate, referring to it as "middle-class welfare".[14]
Other managed care techniques include such elements as disease management, case management, wellness incentives, patient education, utilization management and utilization review. These techniques can be applied to both network-based benefit programs and benefit programs that are not based on a provider network. The use of managed care techniques without a provider network is sometimes described as "managed indemnity."
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]
The Swiss healthcare system is a combination of public, subsidised private and totally private systems. Insurance premiums vary from insurance company to company, the excess level individually chosen (franchise), the place of residence of the insured person and the degree of supplementary benefit coverage chosen (complementary medicine, routine dental care, semi-private or private ward hospitalisation, etc.).
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was designed primarily to extend health coverage to those without it by expanding Medicaid, creating financial incentives for employers to offer coverage, and requiring those without employer or public coverage to purchase insurance in newly created health insurance exchanges. This requirement for almost all individuals to maintain health insurance is often referred to as the "individual mandate." The CBO has estimated that roughly 33 million who would have otherwise been uninsured will receive coverage because of the act by 2022.[17]
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