Insurance against loss by illness or bodily injury. Health insurance provides coverage for medicine, visits to the doctor or emergency room, hospital stays and other medical expenses. Policies differ in what they cover, the size of the deductible and/or co-payment, limits of coverage and the options for treatment available to the policyholder. Health insurance can be directly purchased by an individual, or it may be provided through an employer. Medicare and Medicaid are programs which provide health insurance to elderly, disabled, or un-insured individuals.
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.
Through the 1990s, managed care insurance schemes including health maintenance organizations (HMO), preferred provider organizations, or point of service plans grew from about 25% US employees with employer-sponsored coverage to the vast majority. With managed care, insurers use various techniques to address costs and improve quality, including negotiation of prices ("in-network" providers), utilization management, and requirements for quality assurance such as being accredited by accreditation schemes such as the Joint Commission and the American Accreditation Healthcare Commission.
When small group plans are medically underwritten, employees are asked to provide health information about themselves and their covered family members when they apply for coverage. When determining rates, insurance companies use the medical information on these applications. Sometimes they will request additional information from an applicant's physician or ask the applicants for clarification.
The terms "open panel" and "closed panel" are sometimes used to describe which health care providers in a community have the opportunity to participate in a plan. In a "closed panel" HMO, the network providers are either HMO employees (staff model) or members of large group practices with which the HMO has a contract. In an "open panel" plan the HMO or PPO contracts with independent practitioners, opening participation in the network to any provider in the community that meets the plan's credential requirements and is willing to accept the terms of the plan's contract.
Most provider markets (especially hospitals) are also highly concentrated—roughly 80%, according to criteria established by the FTC and Department of Justice—so insurers usually have little choice about which providers to include in their networks, and consequently little leverage to control the prices they pay. Large insurers frequently negotiate most-favored nation clauses with providers, agreeing to raise rates significantly while guaranteeing that providers will charge other insurers higher rates.
HSAs are one form of tax-preferenced health care spending accounts. Others include Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Archer Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs), which have been superseded by the new HSAs (although existing MSAs are grandfathered), and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs). These accounts are most commonly used as part of an employee health benefit package. While there are currently no government-imposed limits to FSAs, legislation currently being reconciled between the House of Representatives and Senate would impose a cap of $2,500. While both the House and Senate bills would adjust the cap to inflation, approximately 7 million Americans who use their FSAs to cover out-of-pocket health care expenses greater than $2,500 would be forced to pay higher taxes and health care costs.
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.
Efforts to pass a national pool were unsuccessful for many years. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it became easier for people with pre-existing conditions to afford regular insurance, since all insurers are fully prohibited from discriminating against or charging higher rates for any individuals based on pre-existing medical conditions. Therefore, most of the state-based pools shut down. As of 2017, some remain due to statutes which have not been updated, but they also may cover people with gaps in coverage such as undocumented immigrants or Medicare-eligible individuals under the age of 65.
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.) On the other hand, public policy changes could also result in a reduction in employer support for employment-based health benefits.
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.
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.
Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most seniors and also low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors (generally persons aged 65 and over) and certain disabled individuals; 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; and CHIP, also 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. In 2011, approximately 60 percent of stays were billed to Medicare and Medicaid—up from 52 percent in 1997.
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. 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.
According to a 2007 study, about 59% of employers at small firms (3–199 workers) in the US provide employee health insurance. The percentage of small firms offering coverage has been dropping steadily since 1999. The study notes that cost remains the main reason cited by small firms who do not offer health benefits. Small firms that are new are less likely to offer coverage than ones that have been in existence for a number of years. For example, using 2005 data for firms with fewer than 10 employees, 43% of those that had been in existence at least 20 years offered coverage, but only 24% of those that had been in existence less than 5 years did. The volatility of offer rates from year to year also appears to be higher for newer small businesses.
The remaining 45% of health care funding comes from insurance premiums paid by the public, for which companies compete on price, though the variation between the various competing insurers is only about 5%. However, insurance companies are free to sell additional policies to provide coverage beyond the national minimum. These policies do not receive funding from the equalization pool, but cover additional treatments, such as dental procedures and physiotherapy, which are not paid for by the mandatory policy.
In 2006, a new system of health insurance came into force in the Netherlands. This new system avoids the two pitfalls of adverse selection and moral hazard associated with traditional forms of health insurance by using a combination of regulation and an insurance equalization pool. Moral hazard is avoided by mandating that insurance companies provide at least one policy which meets a government set minimum standard level of coverage, and all adult residents are obliged by law to purchase this coverage from an insurance company of their choice. All insurance companies receive funds from the equalization pool to help cover the cost of this government-mandated coverage. This pool is run by a regulator which collects salary-based contributions from employers, which make up about 50% of all health care funding, and funding from the government to cover people who cannot afford health care, which makes up an additional 5%.
In 2003, according to the Heartland Institute's Merrill Matthews, association group health insurance plans offered affordable health insurance to "some 6 million Americans." Matthews responded to the criticism that said that some associations work too closely with their insurance providers. He said, "You would expect the head of AARP to have a good working relationship with the CEO of Prudential, which sells policies to AARP's seniors."
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).
The public option was featured in three bills considered by the United States House of Representatives in 2009: the proposed Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962), which was passed by the House in 2009, its predecessor, the proposed America's Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200), and a third bill, the Public Option Act, also referred to as the "Medicare You Can Buy Into Act", (H.R. 4789). In the first two bills, the public option took the form of a Qualified Health Benefit Plan competing with similar private insurance plans in an internet-based exchange or marketplace, enabling citizens and small businesses to purchase health insurance meeting a minimum federal standard. The Public Option Act, in contrast, would have allowed all citizens and permanent residents to buy into a public option by participating in the public Medicare program. Individuals covered by other employer plans or by state insurance plans such as Medicare would have not been eligible to obtain coverage from the exchange. The federal government's health insurance plan would have been financed entirely by premiums without subsidy from the Federal government, although some plans called for government seed money to get the programs started.
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.
Health insurance is a type of insurance coverage that pays for medical and surgical expenses incurred by the insured. Health insurance can reimburse the insured for expenses incurred from illness or injury, or pay the care provider directly. It is often included in employer benefit packages as a means of enticing quality employees. The cost of health insurance premiums is deductible to the payer, and the benefits received are tax-free.
In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. It prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions and allows children to remain on their parents' insurance plan until they reach the age of 26. In participating states, the act also expanded Medicaid, a government program that provides medical care for individuals with very low incomes. In addition to these changes, the ACA established the federal Healthcare Marketplace. The marketplace helps individuals and businesses shop for quality insurance plans at affordable rates. Low-income individuals who sign up for insurance through the marketplace may qualify for subsidies to help bring down costs.
While politically difficult, some politicians and observers have argued for a single-payer system. A bill, the United States National Health Care Act, was first proposed by Representative John Conyers in 2003 and has been perennially proposed since, including during the debate on the public option and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 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." Obama had previously expressed that he is a proponent of a single payer universal health care program during an AFL-CIO conference in 2003.
Over time, the operations of many Blue Cross and Blue Shield operations have become more similar to those of commercial health insurance companies. However, some Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans continue to serve as insurers of last resort. 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). 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.
Prior to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, effective from 2014, about 34 states offered guaranteed-issuance risk pools, which enabled individuals who are medically uninsurable through private health insurance to purchase a state-sponsored health insurance plan, usually at higher cost, with high deductibles and possibly lifetime maximums. Plans varied greatly from state to state, both in their costs and benefits to consumers and in their methods of funding and operations. The first such plan was implemented In 1976.