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.
Health insurance is a type of insurance coverage that pays for medical and surgical expenses incurred by the insured. Health insurance can reimburse the insured for expenses incurred from illness or injury, or pay the care provider directly. It is often included in employer benefit packages as a means of enticing quality employees. The cost of health insurance premiums is deductible to the payer, and the benefits received are tax-free.
The types of coverage available to small employers are similar to those offered by large firms, but small businesses do not have the same options for financing their benefit plans. In particular, self-funded health care (whereby an employer provides health or disability benefits to employees with its own funds rather than contracting an insurance company) is not a practical option for most small employers. A RAND Corporation study published in April 2008 found that the cost of health care coverage places a greater burden on small firms, as a percentage of payroll, than on larger firms. A study published by the American Enterprise Institute in August 2008 examined the effect of state benefit mandates on self-employed individuals, and found that "the larger the number of mandates in a state, the lower the probability that a self-employed person will be a significant employment generator." Beneficiary cost sharing is, on average, higher among small firms than large firms.
Many Democratic politicians were publicly in favor of the public option for a variety of reasons. President Obama continued campaigning for the public option during the debate. In a public rally in Cincinnati on September 7, 2009, President Obama said: "I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs." The President also addressed a Joint Session of Congress on September 9, 2009, reiterating his call for a public insurance option, saying that he had "no interest in putting insurance companies out of business" while saying that the public option would "have to be self-sufficient" and succeed by reducing overhead costs and profit motives. Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, who represents the 18th congressional district in Houston, believed that a "vigorous public option" would be included in the final bill and would "benefit the state of Texas."
In the run-up to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Platform Committee approved a plank supporting the addition of a public option onto the Affordable Care Act. The decision was seen as a compromise measure between the Hillary Clinton campaign who during the 2016 presidential primaries advocated for keeping and reforming the ACA, and the Bernie Sanders campaign who advocated for repealing and replacing the ACA with a single-payer Medicare for All program. The Clinton campaign stated shortly before the plank was added that as president Clinton would "pursue efforts to give Americans in every state in the country the choice of a public-option insurance plan", while Bernie Sanders applauded the decision to "see that all Americans have the right to choose a public option in their health care exchange, which will lower the cost of healthcare". The call was echoed by President Obama, who in an article for the American Medical Association stated that Congress "should revisit a public plan to compete alongside private insurers in areas of the country where competition is limited."