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).
ageing, menopause and puberty; AIDS/HIV; allergies or allergic disorders; birth control, conception, sexual problems and sex changes; chronic conditions; complications from excluded or restricted conditions/ treatment; convalescence, rehabilitation and general nursing care ; cosmetic, reconstructive or weight loss treatment; deafness; dental/oral treatment (such as fillings, gum disease, jaw shrinkage, etc); dialysis; drugs and dressings for out-patient or take-home use† ; experimental drugs and treatment; eyesight; HRT and bone densitometry; learning difficulties, behavioural and developmental problems; overseas treatment and repatriation; physical aids and devices; pre-existing or special conditions; pregnancy and childbirth; screening and preventive treatment; sleep problems and disorders; speech disorders; temporary relief of symptoms.[40] († = except in exceptional circumstances)
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.
As the population covered by Medicare grows, its costs are projected to rise from slightly over 3 percent of GDP to over 6 percent, contributing substantially to the federal budget deficit.[47] In 2011, Medicare was the primary payer for an estimated 15.3 million inpatient stays, representing 47.2 percent ($182.7 billion) of total aggregate inpatient hospital costs in the United States.[12] The Affordable Care Act took some steps to reduce Medicare spending, and various other proposals are circulating to reduce it further.
Marcia Angell, M. D., Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and former Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, believes that the result of a public option would be more "under-55's" opting to pay the fine rather than purchase insurance under a public option scenario, instead advocating lowering the Medicare age to 55.[40]
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.[6] 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.
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.
As of 2014, more than three-quarters of the country’s Medicaid enrollees were covered under private Medicaid managed care plans, and 31 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans in 2016. However, the funding for these plans still comes from the government (federal for Medicare Advantage, and a combination of state and federal funding for Medicaid managed care).
President Harry S. Truman proposed a system of public health insurance in his November 19, 1945, address. He envisioned a national system that would be open to all Americans, but would remain optional. Participants would pay monthly fees into the plan, which would cover the cost of any and all medical expenses that arose in a time of need. The government would pay for the cost of services rendered by any doctor who chose to join the program. In addition, the insurance plan would give cash to the policy holder to replace wages lost because of illness or injury. The proposal was quite popular with the public, but it was fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce, the American Hospital Association, and the AMA, which denounced it as "socialism".[25]

According to a 2007 study, about 59% of employers at small firms (3–199 workers) in the US provide employee health insurance. The percentage of small firms offering coverage has been dropping steadily since 1999. The study notes that cost remains the main reason cited by small firms who do not offer health benefits.[66] Small firms that are new are less likely to offer coverage than ones that have been in existence for a number of years. For example, using 2005 data for firms with fewer than 10 employees, 43% of those that had been in existence at least 20 years offered coverage, but only 24% of those that had been in existence less than 5 years did. The volatility of offer rates from year to year also appears to be higher for newer small businesses.[67]
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.[59] 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.[60] The percentage of total compensation devoted to health benefits has been rising since the 1960s.[61] Average premiums, including both the employer and employee portions, were $4,704 for single coverage and $12,680 for family coverage in 2008.[58][62]

The compulsory insurance can be supplemented by private "complementary" insurance policies that allow for coverage of some of the treatment categories not covered by the basic insurance or to improve the standard of room and service in case of hospitalisation. This can include complementary medicine, routine dental treatment and private ward hospitalisation, which are not covered by the compulsory insurance.
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]

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]

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 the late 1990s and early 2000s, health advocacy companies began to appear to help patients deal with the complexities of the healthcare system. The complexity of the healthcare system has resulted in a variety of problems for the American public. A study found that 62 percent of persons declaring bankruptcy in 2007 had unpaid medical expenses of $1000 or more, and in 92% of these cases the medical debts exceeded $5000. Nearly 80 percent who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance.[59] The Medicare and Medicaid programs were estimated to soon account for 50 percent of all national health spending.[60] These factors and many others fueled interest in an overhaul of the health care system in the United States. In 2010 President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This Act includes an 'individual mandate' that every American must have medical insurance (or pay a fine). Health policy experts such as David Cutler and Jonathan Gruber, as well as the American medical insurance lobby group America's Health Insurance Plans, argued this provision was required in order to provide "guaranteed issue" and a "community rating," which address unpopular features of America's health insurance system such as premium weightings, exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and the pre-screening of insurance applicants. During 26–28 March, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the validity of the Act. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was determined to be constitutional on 28 June 2012. The Supreme Court determined that Congress had the authority to apply the individual mandate within its taxing powers.[61]

Most provider markets (especially hospitals) are also highly concentrated—roughly 80%, according to criteria established by the FTC and Department of Justice[118]—so insurers usually have little choice about which providers to include in their networks, and consequently little leverage to control the prices they pay. Large insurers frequently negotiate most-favored nation clauses with providers, agreeing to raise rates significantly while guaranteeing that providers will charge other insurers higher rates.[119]
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."
Bärnighausen, Till; Sauerborn, Rainer (May 2002). "One hundred and eighteen years of the German health insurance system: are there any lessons for middle- and low income countries?" (PDF). Social Science & Medicine. 54 (10): 1559–87. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(01)00137-X. PMID 12061488. Retrieved 10 March 2013. As Germany has the world's oldest SHI [social health insurance] system, it naturally lends itself to historical analyses. is an independent, advertising-supported website publisher and provides a consumer comparison service. may earn revenue for leads, clicks, calls and application generated, and may be compensated by its advertisers for sponsored products and services. This compensation may impact how, where and in what order products appear. does not include all companies or all available products. is not a broker or agent on the sale of insurance products.
Public polling consistently showed majority support for a public option. A July 2009 survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that 28% of Americans would like to purchase a public plan while 53% would prefer to have a private plan. It also stated that 69% would support its creation in the first place.[42] Survey USA estimated that the majority of Americans (77%) feel that it is either "Quite Important" or "Extremely Important" to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance" in August 2009.[43] A Rasmussen Reports poll taken on August 17–18 stated that 57% of Americans did not support the current health care bill being considered by Congress that did not include a public option,[44] a change from their findings in July 2009.[45] A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted August 15–17, found that 47% of Americans opposed the idea of a public option and 43% expressed support.[46] A Pew Research Center report published on October 8, 2009 stated that 55% of Americans favor a government health insurance plan to compete with private plans. The results were very similar to their polling from July, which found 52% support.[47] An October 2009 Washington Post/ABC poll showed 57% support,[48] a USA Today/Gallup survey described by a USA Today article on October 27 found that 50% of Americans supported a government plan proposal,[49] and a poll from November 10 and 11 by Angus Reid Public Opinion found that 52% of Americans supported a public plan.[50] On October 27, journalist Ray Suarez of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer noted that "public opinion researchers say the tide has been shifting over the last several weeks, and now is not spectacularly, but solidly in favor of a public option."[51]
Effective group health plan years beginning after September 23, 2010, if an employer-sponsored health plan allows employees' children to enroll in coverage, then the health plan must allow employees' adult children to enroll as well as long as the adult child is not yet age 26. Some group health insurance plans may also require that the adult child not be eligible for other group health insurance coverage, but only before 2014.[78]
When small group plans are medically underwritten, employees are asked to provide health information about themselves and their covered family members when they apply for coverage. When determining rates, insurance companies use the medical information on these applications. Sometimes they will request additional information from an applicant's physician or ask the applicants for clarification.[73]
Health insurance absorbs or offsets healthcare costs associated with, but not limited to, routine health examinations, specialist referral visits, inpatient and outpatient surgery, unforeseen eventualities such as illnesses or injuries, and prescription medication. Health insurance policies are categorized as privately paid for by an individual, publicly provided as a service through Social Security, or commercially arranged by a company as part of an employee benefit package.

Australian health funds can be either 'for profit' including Bupa and nib; 'mutual' including Australian Unity; or 'non-profit' including GMHBA, HCF and the HBF Health Fund (HBF). Some, such as Police Health, have membership restricted to particular groups, but the majority have open membership. Membership to most health funds is now also available through comparison websites like moneytime, Compare the Market, iSelect Ltd., Choosi, ComparingExpert and YouCompare. These comparison sites operate on a commission-basis by agreement with their participating health funds. The Private Health Insurance Ombudsman also operates a free website which allows consumers to search for and compare private health insurers' products, which includes information on price and level of cover.[9]
Out-of-pocket maximum: Similar to coverage limits, except that in this case, the insured person's payment obligation ends when they reach the out-of-pocket maximum, and health insurance pays all further covered costs. Out-of-pocket maximum can be limited to a specific benefit category (such as prescription drugs) or can apply to all coverage provided during a specific benefit year.
The US has a joint federal and state system for regulating insurance, with the federal government ceding primary responsibility to the states under the McCarran-Ferguson Act. States regulate the content of health insurance policies and often require coverage of specific types of medical services or health care providers.[54][55] State mandates generally do not apply to the health plans offered by large employers, because of the preemption clause of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

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%).[7]