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.
Opposite to high-deductible plans are plans which provide limited benefits—up to a low level—have also been introduced. These limited medical benefit plans pay for routine care and do not pay for catastrophic care, they do not provide equivalent financial security to a major medical plan. Annual benefit limits can be as low as $2,000.[citation needed] Lifetime maximums can be very low as well.[citation needed]
The state passed healthcare reform in 2006 in order to greater decrease the uninsured rate among its citizens. The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as "Obamacare") is largely based on Massachusetts' health reform.[39] Due to that colloquialism, the Massachusetts reform has been nicknamed as "Romneycare" after then-Governor Mitt Romney.[40]

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


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]
Germans are offered three kinds of social security insurance dealing with the physical status of a person and which are co-financed by employer and employee: health insurance, accident insurance, and long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance (Gesetzliche Pflegeversicherung) emerged in 1994 and is mandatory.[24] Accident insurance (gesetzliche Unfallversicherung) is covered by the employer and basically covers all risks for commuting to work and at the workplace.[citation needed]
In the late 1990s federal legislation had been proposed to "create federally-recognized Association Health Plans which was then "referred to in some bills as 'Small Business Health Plans.'[79] The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), which is the "standard-setting and regulatory of chief insurance regulators from all states, the District of Columbia and territories, cautioned against implementing AHPs citing "plan failures like we saw The Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements (MEWAs) in the 1990s."[80] "[S]mall businesses in California such as dairy farmers, car dealers, and accountants created AHPs "to buy health insurance on the premise that a bigger pool of enrollees would get them a better deal."[81] A November 2017 article in the Los Angeles Times described how there were only 4 remaining AHPs in California. Many of the AHPs filed for bankruptcy, "sometimes in the wake of fraud." State legislators were forced to pass "sweeping changes in the 1990s" that almost made AHPs extinct.[81]
Types of Coverage: All of the health plans sold through the Marketplace are offered by private insurance companies and are required to meet minimum requirements. All of the plans are required to cover a comprehensive set of benefits that includes hospital care, doctors’ visits, emergency care, prescription drugs, lab services, preventive care, and rehabilitative services. Before choosing a plan, individuals will be able to see whether their healthcare practitioner participates in the plan’s network (if choosing a network plan). Individuals will be able to choose the plan that best meets their needs and budget. Individuals with low-incomes may instead qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 

Health insurance companies are not actually providing traditional insurance, which involves the pooling of risk, because the vast majority of purchasers actually do face the harms that they are "insuring" against. Instead, as Edward Beiser and Jacob Appel have separately argued, health insurers are better thought of as low-risk money managers who pocket the interest on what are really long-term healthcare savings accounts.[131][132]


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]


Health insurance companies are not actually providing traditional insurance, which involves the pooling of risk, because the vast majority of purchasers actually do face the harms that they are "insuring" against. Instead, as Edward Beiser and Jacob Appel have separately argued, health insurers are better thought of as low-risk money managers who pocket the interest on what are really long-term healthcare savings accounts.[131][132]
Premiums, or the cost of the medical coverage, are based on some factors including country of origin, age, medical history, etc. It is advised to have more comprehensive insurance for US medical coverage because it can cost a lot, but the costs of not having it can be much higher. For example, the tests and scans doctors often run are costly and typically not covered by budget medical insurance plans.

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.
FSA (Flexible Spending Account) - An FSA is often set up through an employer plan. It lets you set aside pre-tax money for common medical costs and dependent care. FSA funds must be used by the end of the term-year. It will be sent back to the employer if you don't use it. Check with your employer's Human Resources team. The can provide a list of FSA-qualified costs that you can purchase directly or be reimbursed for. A few common FSA-qualified costs include:
Many health insurance plans place dollar limits upon the claims the insurer will pay over the course of a plan year. Beginning September 23, 2010, PPACA phases annual dollar limits will be phased out over the next 3 years until 2014 when they will not be permitted for most plans. There is an exception to this phase out for Grandfathered Plans. Except for Grandfathered Plans, beginning September 23, 2012 annual limits can be no lower than $2 million. Except for Grandfathered Plans, beginning January 1, 2014, all annual dollar limits on coverage of essential health benefits will be prohibited.
Medicare Advantage plans expand the health insurance options for people with Medicare. Medicare Advantage was created under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, with the intent to better control the rapid growth in Medicare spending, as well as to provide Medicare beneficiaries more choices. But on average, Medicare Advantage plans cost 12% more than traditional Medicare.[48] The ACA took steps to align payments to Medicare Advantage plans with the cost of traditional Medicare.
Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Medicare Levy Surcharge: People whose taxable income is greater than a specified amount (in the 2011/12 financial year $80,000 for singles and $168,000 for couples[11]) and who do not have an adequate level of private hospital cover must pay a 1% surcharge on top of the standard 1.5% Medicare Levy. The rationale is that if the people in this income group are forced to pay more money one way or another, most would choose to purchase hospital insurance with it, with the possibility of a benefit in the event that they need private hospital treatment – rather than pay it in the form of extra tax as well as having to meet their own private hospital costs.

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Coinsurance: Instead of, or in addition to, paying a fixed amount up front (a co-payment), the co-insurance is a percentage of the total cost that insured person may also pay. For example, the member might have to pay 20% of the cost of a surgery over and above a co-payment, while the insurance company pays the other 80%. If there is an upper limit on coinsurance, the policy-holder could end up owing very little, or a great deal, depending on the actual costs of the services they obtain.

Coupled with high-deductible plans are various tax-advantaged savings plans—funds (such as salary) can be placed in a savings plan, and then go to pay the out-of-pocket expenses. This approach to addressing increasing premiums is dubbed "consumer driven health care", and received a boost in 2003, when President George W. Bush signed into law the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. The law created tax-deductible Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), untaxed private bank accounts for medical expenses, which can be established by those who already have health insurance. Withdrawals from HSAs are only penalized if the money is spent on non-medical items or services. Funds can be used to pay for qualified expenses, including doctor's fees, Medicare Parts A and B, and drugs, without being taxed.[106]
Medicare Supplement policies are designed to cover expenses not covered (or only partially covered) by the "original Medicare" (Parts A & B) fee-for-service benefits. They are only available to individuals enrolled in Medicare Parts A & B. Medigap plans may be purchased on a guaranteed issue basis (no health questions asked) during a six-month open enrollment period when an individual first becomes eligible for Medicare.[128] The benefits offered by Medigap plans are standardized.

The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a joint state/federal program to provide health insurance to children in families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private insurance. The statutory authority for CHIP is under title XXI of the Social Security Act. CHIP programs are run by the individual states according to requirements set by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and may be structured as independent programs separate from Medicaid (separate child health programs), as expansions of their Medicaid programs (CHIP Medicaid expansion programs), or combine these approaches (CHIP combination programs). States receive enhanced federal funds for their CHIP programs at a rate above the regular Medicaid match.
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]

In March 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The Small Business Health Fairness Act (H.R. 1101), which established "requirements for creating a federally-certified AHP, including for certification itself, sponsors and boards of trustees, participation and coverage, nondiscrimination, contribution rates, and voluntary termination."[79][84]
Many Democratic politicians were publicly in favor of the public option for a variety of reasons. President Obama continued campaigning for the public option during the debate. In a public rally in Cincinnati on September 7, 2009, President Obama said: "I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs."[23] The President also addressed a Joint Session of Congress on September 9, 2009, reiterating his call for a public insurance option, saying that he had "no interest in putting insurance companies out of business" while saying that the public option would "have to be self-sufficient" and succeed by reducing overhead costs and profit motives.[24] Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, who represents the 18th congressional district in Houston, believed that a "vigorous public option" would be included in the final bill and would "benefit the state of Texas."[25]
Co-payments were introduced in the 1980s in an attempt to prevent over utilization. The average length of hospital stay in Germany has decreased in recent years from 14 days to 9 days, still considerably longer than average stays in the United States (5 to 6 days).[28][29] Part of the difference is that the chief consideration for hospital reimbursement is the number of hospital days as opposed to procedures or diagnosis. Drug costs have increased substantially, rising nearly 60% from 1991 through 2005. Despite attempts to contain costs, overall health care expenditures rose to 10.7% of GDP in 2005, comparable to other western European nations, but substantially less than that spent in the U.S. (nearly 16% of GDP).[30]

Accident insurance was first offered in the United States by the Franklin Health Assurance Company of Massachusetts. This firm, founded in 1850, offered insurance against injuries arising from railroad and steamboat accidents. Sixty organizations were offering accident insurance in the U.S. by 1866, but the industry consolidated rapidly soon thereafter. While there were earlier experiments, the origins of sickness coverage in the U.S. effectively date from 1890. The first employer-sponsored group disability policy was issued in 1911.[65]
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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]
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