The purpose behind the public option was to make more affordable health insurance for uninsured citizens who are either unable to afford the rates of or are rejected by private health insurers. Supporters argued that a government insurance company could successfully lower its rates by using greater leverage than private industry when negotiating with hospitals and doctors, as well as paying the employees of the public option insurance company salaries as opposed to paying based on individual medical procedures.
Approximately 19 percent of Americans had coverage under Medicaid in 2016, and 14 percent had coverage under Medicare. These are government-run programs, as opposed to private coverage. However, the state and federal governments contract with private insurers to offer Medicaid managed care plans and Medicare Advantage plans, all of which are run by private insurers (in many cases, the same private insurers that offer employer-sponsored and individual market plans to the rest of the population).
According to some experts, such as Uwe Reinhardt, Sherry Glied, Megan Laugensen, Michael Porter, and Elizabeth Teisberg, this pricing system is highly inefficient and is a major cause of rising health care costs. Health care costs in the United States vary enormously between plans and geographical regions, even when input costs are fairly similar, and rise very quickly. Health care costs have risen faster than economic growth at least since the 1970s. Public health insurance programs typically have more bargaining power as a result of their greater size and typically pay less for medical services than private plans, leading to slower cost growth, but the overall trend in health care prices have led public programs' costs to grow at a rapid pace as well.
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.
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.
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).
Today, this system is more or less intact. All citizens and legal foreign residents of France are covered by one of these mandatory programs, which continue to be funded by worker participation. However, since 1945, a number of major changes have been introduced. Firstly, the different health care funds (there are five: General, Independent, Agricultural, Student, Public Servants) now all reimburse at the same rate. Secondly, since 2000, the government now provides health care to those who are not covered by a mandatory regime (those who have never worked and who are not students, meaning the very rich or the very poor). This regime, unlike the worker-financed ones, is financed via general taxation and reimburses at a higher rate than the profession-based system for those who cannot afford to make up the difference. Finally, to counter the rise in health care costs, the government has installed two plans, (in 2004 and 2006), which require insured people to declare a referring doctor in order to be fully reimbursed for specialist visits, and which installed a mandatory co-pay of €1 for a doctor visit, €0.50 for each box of medicine prescribed, and a fee of €16–18 per day for hospital stays and for expensive procedures.
Insurance plans with higher out-of-pocket costs generally have smaller monthly premiums than plans with low deductibles. When shopping for plans, individuals must weigh the benefits of lower monthly costs against the potential risk of large out-of-pocket expenses in the case of a major illness or accident. Health insurance has many cousins, such as disability insurance, critical (catastrophic) illness insurance, and long-term care (LTC) insurance.
Provider networks can be used to reduce costs by negotiating favorable fees from providers, selecting cost effective providers, and creating financial incentives for providers to practice more efficiently. A survey issued in 2009 by America's Health Insurance Plans found that patients going to out-of-network providers are sometimes charged extremely high fees.
Public insurance cover increased from 2000–2010 in part because of an aging population and an economic downturn in the latter part of the decade. Funding for Medicaid and CHIP expanded significantly under the 2010 health reform bill. The proportion of individuals covered by Medicaid increased from 10.5% in 2000 to 14.5% in 2010 and 20% in 2015. The proportion covered by Medicare increased from 13.5% in 2000 to 15.9% in 2010, then decreased to 14% in 2015.