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"). 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.
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. 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.
Network-based plans may be either closed or open. With a closed network, enrollees' expenses are generally only covered when they go to network providers. Only limited services are covered outside the network—typically only emergency and out-of-area care. Most traditional HMOs were closed network plans. Open network plans provide some coverage when an enrollee uses non-network provider, generally at a lower benefit level to encourage the use of network providers. Most preferred provider organization plans are open-network (those that are not are often described as exclusive provider organizations, or EPOs), as are point of service (POS) plans.
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. 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). 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. 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.
Health insurance plans are separated into different metal tiers based on the proportion of health care costs the insurance plan is expected to cover. Catastrophic and Bronze plans cover the smallest proportion, having the highest deductibles, copays and coinsurance. On the other end of the spectrum, Platinum plans offer the greatest amount coverage, expected to cover 90% of all costs.
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."
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the National Governors' Association and "several insurance and consumer groups" opposed the AHP legislation. The NAIC issued a Consumer Alert regarding AHPs, as proposed in Developing the Next Generation of Small Businesses Act of 2017. H.R. 1774. Their statement said that AHP's "[t]hreaten the stability of the small group market" and provide "inadequate benefits and insufficient protection to consumers." 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."
Broader levels of health insurance coverage generally have higher premium costs. In many cases, the insured party is responsible for paying his/her healthcare provider an up-front, tax deductible amount called co-pay. Health insurance companies then may compensate healthcare providers directly or reimburse the policy holder based on the remaining portion of an itemized bill.
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%).