Persistent lack of insurance among many working Americans continued to create pressure for a comprehensive national health insurance system. In the early 1970s, there was fierce debate between two alternative models for universal coverage. Senator Ted Kennedy proposed a universal single-payer system, while President Nixon countered with his own proposal based on mandates and incentives for employers to provide coverage while expanding publicly run coverage for low-wage workers and the unemployed. Compromise was never reached, and Nixon's resignation and a series of economic problems later in the decade diverted Congress's attention away from health reform.
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.[40]
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) enables certain individuals with employer-sponsored coverage to extend their coverage if certain "qualifying events" would otherwise cause them to lose it. Employers may require COBRA-qualified individuals to pay the full cost of coverage, and coverage cannot be extended indefinitely. COBRA only applies to firms with 20 or more employees, although some states also have "mini-COBRA" laws that apply to small employers.
The 1960 Kerr-Mills Act provided matching funds to states assisting patients with their medical bills. In the early 1960s, Congress rejected a plan to subsidize private coverage for people with Social Security as unworkable, and an amendment to the Social Security Act creating a publicly run alternative was proposed. Finally, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare and Medicaid programs into law in 1965, creating publicly run insurance for the elderly and the poor.[29] Medicare was later expanded to cover people with disabilities, end-stage renal disease, and ALS.
However, with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, effective since 2014, federal laws have created some uniformity in partnership with the existing state-based system. Insurers are prohibited from discriminating against or charging higher rates for individuals based on pre-existing medical conditions and must offer a standard set of coverage.[31][32]

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 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]

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]
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) enables certain individuals with employer-sponsored coverage to extend their coverage if certain "qualifying events" would otherwise cause them to lose it. Employers may require COBRA-qualified individuals to pay the full cost of coverage, and coverage cannot be extended indefinitely. COBRA only applies to firms with 20 or more employees, although some states also have "mini-COBRA" laws that apply to small employers.

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[68]) is not a practical option for most small employers.[69] 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.[70] 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."[71] Beneficiary cost sharing is, on average, higher among small firms than large firms.[72]


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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