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]
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.
In-Network Provider: (U.S. term) A health care provider on a list of providers preselected by the insurer. The insurer will offer discounted coinsurance or co-payments, or additional benefits, to a plan member to see an in-network provider. Generally, providers in network are providers who have a contract with the insurer to accept rates further discounted from the "usual and customary" charges the insurer pays to out-of-network providers.
Scheduled health insurance plans are an expanded form of Hospital Indemnity plans. In recent years, these plans have taken the name mini-med plans or association plans. These plans may provide benefits for hospitalization, surgical, and physician services. However, they are not meant to replace a traditional comprehensive health insurance plan. Scheduled health insurance plans are more of a basic policy providing access to day-to-day health care such as going to the doctor or getting a prescription drug, but these benefits will be limited and are not meant to be effective for catastrophic events. Payments are based upon the plan's "schedule of benefits" and are usually paid directly to the service provider. These plans cost much less than comprehensive health insurance. Annual benefit maximums for a typical scheduled health insurance plan may range from $1,000 to $25,000.
Coverage limits: Some health insurance policies only pay for health care up to a certain dollar amount. The insured person may be expected to pay any charges in excess of the health plan's maximum payment for a specific service. In addition, some insurance company schemes have annual or lifetime coverage maxima. In these cases, the health plan will stop payment when they reach the benefit maximum, and the policy-holder must pay all remaining costs.

As far as the compulsory health insurance is concerned, the insurance companies cannot set any conditions relating to age, sex or state of health for coverage. Although the level of premium can vary from one company to another, they must be identical within the same company for all insured persons of the same age group and region, regardless of sex or state of health. This does not apply to complementary insurance, where premiums are risk-based.


Hospital and medical expense policies were introduced during the first half of the 20th century. During the 1920s, individual hospitals began offering services to individuals on a pre-paid basis, eventually leading to the development of Blue Cross organizations.[65] The predecessors of today's Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) originated beginning in 1929, through the 1930s and on during World War II.[67][68]

The average rates paid for health insurance plans are inversely related to the amount of coverage they provide, with Platinum plans being the most expensive and Bronze / Catastrophic plans being the cheapest. The following table shows the average rates a 21 year old would pay for individual health insurance based on plans in the different tiers. Older consumers would see their plans increase according to the age scale set by the federal guidelines.

On the 1st of August, 2018 the DHHS issued a final rule which made federal changes to Short-Term, Limited-Duration Health Insurance (STLDI) which lengthened the maximum contract term to 364 days and renewal for up to 36 months.[45][46] This new rule, in combination with the expiration of the penalty for the Individual Mandate of the Affordable Care Act,[47] has been the subject of independent analysis.[48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55]

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


All U.S. citizens living in the United States are subject to the individual shared responsibility provision as are all permanent residents and all foreign nationals who are in the United States long enough during a calendar year to qualify as resident aliens for tax purposes. This category includes nonresident aliens who meet certain presence requirements and elect to be treated as resident aliens. For more information see Pub. 519. More: Shared Responsibility from the IRS (See Question 11)
In 1935 the decision was made by the Roosevelt Administration not to include a large-scale health insurance program as part of the new Social Security program. The problem was not an attack by any organized opposition, such as the opposition from the American Medical Association that derailed Truman's proposals in 1949. Instead, there was a lack of active popular, congressional, or interest group support. Roosevelt's strategy was to wait for a demand and a program to materialize, and then if he thought it popular enough to throw his support behind it. His Committee on Economic Security (CES) deliberately limited the health segment of Social Security to the expansion of medical care and facilities. It considered unemployment insurance to be the major priority. Roosevelt assured the medical community that medicine would be kept out of politics. Jaap Kooijman says he succeeded in "pacifying the opponents without discouraging the reformers." The right moment never came for him to reintroduce the topic.[23][24]
The term managed care is used to describe a variety of techniques intended to reduce the cost of health benefits and improve the quality of care. It is also used to describe organizations that use these techniques ("managed care organization").[96] Many of these techniques were pioneered by HMOs, but they are now used in a wide variety of private health insurance programs. Through the 1990s, managed care grew from about 25% US employees with employer-sponsored coverage to the vast majority.[97]
Between October 28 and November 13, 2009, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin's campaign organization polled Americans to rank their support for various forms of the "public option" currently under consideration by Congress for inclusion in the final health care reform bill. The 83,954 respondents assigned rankings of 0 to 10. A full national option had the most support, with an 8.56 average, while no public option was least favored, with a 1.10 average.[52]

Having health insurance is important for several reasons. Uninsured people receive less medical care and less timely care, they have worse health outcomes, and lack of insurance is a fiscal burden for them and their families. Moreover, the benefits of expanding coverage outweigh the costs for added services. Safety-net care from hospitals and clinics improves access to care but does not fully substitute for health insurance. These findings are supported by much research, although some cautions are appropriate in using these results.
Fringe benefits are generally included in an employee’s gross income (there are some exceptions). The benefits are subject to income tax withholding and employment taxes. Fringe benefits include cars and flights on aircraft that the employer provides, free or discounted commercial flights, vacations, discounts on property or services, memberships in country clubs or other social clubs, and tickets to entertainment or sporting events.
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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