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]
For many Americans, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck, health insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense. The opposite is true. While there are many smart ways to go about saving money, going without health insurance isn’t one of them. Forgoing coverage isn’t smart, nor will it save you money in the long run. The bottom line? Being uninsured is financially risky.
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.[53] 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.[12]
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.[9] 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.[3][10]

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.

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).[123] 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).[124] Business owners can also purchase disability overhead insurance to cover the overhead expenses of their business while they are unable to work.[125]


Health insurance is a benefit provided through a government agency, private business, or non-profit organization. To determine cost, a provider estimates collective medical expenses of a population, then divides that risk amongst the group of policy subscribers. In concept, insurers recognize that one person may incur large unexpected expenses, while another may incur none. The expense, then, is spread among a group of individuals to make health care more affordable for the common good of all. In addition, public health programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP are federally-funded and state-run to provide additional medical coverage to those in vulnerable groups who qualify, such as seniors and those with disability.
The national system of health insurance was instituted in 1945, just after the end of the Second World War. It was a compromise between Gaullist and Communist representatives in the French parliament. The Conservative Gaullists were opposed to a state-run healthcare system, while the Communists were supportive of a complete nationalisation of health care along a British Beveridge model.
The United States health care system relies heavily on private health insurance, which is the primary source of coverage for most Americans. As of 2012 about 61% of Americans had private health insurance according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[56] The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that in 2011, private insurance was billed for 12.2 million U.S. inpatient hospital stays and incurred approximately $112.5 billion in aggregate inpatient hospital costs (29% of the total national aggregate costs).[57] Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most senior citizens and for low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors and certain disabled individuals; and Medicaid, funded jointly by the federal government and states but administered at the state level, which covers certain very low income children and their families. Together, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for approximately 63 percent of the national inpatient hospital costs in 2011.[57] SCHIP is a federal-state partnership that serves certain children and families who do not qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford private coverage. Other public programs include military health benefits provided through TRICARE and the Veterans Health Administration and benefits provided through the Indian Health Service. Some states have additional programs for low-income individuals.[58]
In January 2013, Representative Jan Schakowsky and 44 other U.S. House of Representatives Democrats introduced H.R. 261, the "Public Option Deficit Reduction Act", which would amend the 2010 Affordable Care Act to create a public option. The bill would set up a government-run health insurance plan with premiums 5% to 7% percent lower than private insurance, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating a reduction in the United States public debt by $104 billion over 10 years.[12]
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]
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the National Governors' Association and "several insurance and consumer groups" opposed the AHP legislation.[80] The NAIC issued a Consumer Alert regarding AHPs, as proposed in Developing the Next Generation of Small Businesses Act of 2017. H.R. 1774.[80] Their statement said that AHP's "[t]hreaten the stability of the small group market" and provide "inadequate benefits and insufficient protection to consumers."[80] Under AHPs, "[f]ewer consumers would have their rights protected, "AHPs would also be exempt from state solvency requirements, putting consumers at serious risk of incurring medical claims that cannot be paid by their Association Health Plan."[79]

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."

Finally achieving universal health coverage remained a top priority among Democrats, and passing a health reform bill was one of the Obama Administration's top priorities. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was similar to the Nixon and Clinton plans, mandating coverage, penalizing employers who failed to provide it, and creating mechanisms for people to pool risk and buy insurance collectively.[9] Earlier versions of the bill included a publicly run insurer that could compete to cover those without employer sponsored coverage (the so-called public option), but this was ultimately stripped to secure the support of moderates. The bill passed the Senate in December 2009 with all Democrats voting in favor and the House in March 2010 with the support of most Democrats. Not a single Republican voted in favor of it either time.


On the whole, uninsured Americans have worse health outcomes; cancers and other deadly diseases, for example, are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages in uninsured people. Uninsured pregnant women use fewer prenatal services and uninsured children and adults are less likely than their insured counterparts to have a primary care doctor whom they trust.

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,[18] as well as paying the employees of the public option insurance company salaries as opposed to paying based on individual medical procedures.[19]


States regulate small group premium rates, typically by placing limits on the premium variation allowable between groups (rate bands). Insurers price to recover their costs over their entire book of small group business while abiding by state rating rules.[74] Over time, the effect of initial underwriting "wears off" as the cost of a group regresses towards the mean. Recent claim experience—whether better or worse than average—is a strong predictor of future costs in the near term. But the average health status of a particular small employer group tends to regress over time towards that of an average group.[75] The process used to price small group coverage changes when a state enacts small group reform laws.[76]
In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, in Chaoulli v. Quebec, that the province's prohibition on private insurance for health care already insured by the provincial plan violated the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in particular the sections dealing with the right to life and security, if there were unacceptably long wait times for treatment, as was alleged in this case. The ruling has not changed the overall pattern of health insurance across Canada, but has spurred on attempts to tackle the core issues of supply and demand and the impact of wait times.[18]
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).
A 2011 study found that there were 2.1 million hospital stays for uninsured patients, accounting for 4.4% ($17.1 billion) of total aggregate inpatient hospital costs in the United States.[12] The costs of treating the uninsured must often be absorbed by providers as charity care, passed on to the insured via cost-shifting and higher health insurance premiums, or paid by taxpayers through higher taxes.[13]
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