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.
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]
Public polling consistently showed majority support for a public option. A July 2009 survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that 28% of Americans would like to purchase a public plan while 53% would prefer to have a private plan. It also stated that 69% would support its creation in the first place.[42] Survey USA estimated that the majority of Americans (77%) feel that it is either "Quite Important" or "Extremely Important" to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance" in August 2009.[43] A Rasmussen Reports poll taken on August 17–18 stated that 57% of Americans did not support the current health care bill being considered by Congress that did not include a public option,[44] a change from their findings in July 2009.[45] A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted August 15–17, found that 47% of Americans opposed the idea of a public option and 43% expressed support.[46] A Pew Research Center report published on October 8, 2009 stated that 55% of Americans favor a government health insurance plan to compete with private plans. The results were very similar to their polling from July, which found 52% support.[47] An October 2009 Washington Post/ABC poll showed 57% support,[48] a USA Today/Gallup survey described by a USA Today article on October 27 found that 50% of Americans supported a government plan proposal,[49] and a poll from November 10 and 11 by Angus Reid Public Opinion found that 52% of Americans supported a public plan.[50] On October 27, journalist Ray Suarez of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer noted that "public opinion researchers say the tide has been shifting over the last several weeks, and now is not spectacularly, but solidly in favor of a public option."[51]
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.
Medicaid was instituted for the very poor in 1965. Since enrollees must pass a means test, Medicaid is a social welfare or social protection program rather than a social insurance program. Despite its establishment, the percentage of US residents who lack any form of health insurance has increased since 1994.[51] It has been reported that the number of physicians accepting Medicaid has decreased in recent years because of lower reimbursement rates.[52]
Foreseeing a long and costly political battle, many labor unions chose to campaign for employer-sponsored coverage, which they saw as a less desirable but more achievable goal, and as coverage expanded the national insurance system lost political momentum and ultimately failed to pass. Using health care and other fringe benefits to attract the best employees, private sector, white-collar employers nationwide expanded the U.S. health care system. Public sector employers followed suit in an effort to compete. Between 1940 and 1960, the total number of people enrolled in health insurance plans grew seven-fold, from 20,662,000 to 142,334,000,[26] and by 1958, 75% of Americans had some form of health coverage.[27]
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.[1][2]
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 US by 1866, but the industry consolidated rapidly soon thereafter. While there were earlier experiments, sickness coverage in the US effectively dates from 1890. The first employer-sponsored group disability policy was issued in 1911, but this plan's primary purpose was replacing wages lost because the worker was unable to work, not medical expenses.[19]
Medicaid was instituted for the very poor in 1965. Since enrollees must pass a means test, Medicaid is a social welfare or social protection program rather than a social insurance program. Despite its establishment, the percentage of US residents who lack any form of health insurance has increased since 1994.[51] It has been reported that the number of physicians accepting Medicaid has decreased in recent years because of lower reimbursement rates.[52]

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.[66] 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.[67]
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.[1][2]

In the United States, Medicare is a federal social insurance program that provides health insurance to people over the age of 65, individuals who become totally and permanently disabled, end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients, and people with ALS. Recent research has found that the health trends of previously uninsured adults, especially those with chronic health problems, improves once they enter the Medicare program.[45] Traditional Medicare requires considerable cost-sharing, but ninety percent of Medicare enrollees have some kind of supplemental insurance—either employer-sponsored or retiree coverage, Medicaid, or a private Medigap plan—that covers some or all of their cost-sharing.[46] With supplemental insurance, Medicare ensures that its enrollees have predictable, affordable health care costs regardless of unforeseen illness or injury.


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.
The purpose behind the public option was to make more affordable health insurance for uninsured citizens who are either unable to afford the rates of or are rejected by private health insurers. Supporters argued that a government insurance company could successfully lower its rates by using greater leverage than private industry when negotiating with hospitals and doctors,[18] as well as paying the employees of the public option insurance company salaries as opposed to paying based on individual medical procedures.[19]
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.
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]
How to Enroll: Individuals who need coverage can fill out a single application to find out what financial assistance they are eligible for and to apply for coverage. To find your state’s Marketplace and to apply online go to www.healthcare.gov. Individuals can also call toll-free 1-800-318-2596 to apply. Those needing assistance with filling out the application can get help from trained, certified counselors; to find in-person assistance near you, contact your state’s Marketplace or visit www.healthcare.gov.
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)
The shared responsibility provision is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ACA or Obamacare. The goal is to ensure that all US citizens and permanent residents have access to quality health insurance. Any non-resident aliens, including international students on F, J, M and Q visas (and certain family members of students) are not subject to the individual mandate for their first 5 years in the U.S. All other J categories (teacher, trainee, work and travel, au pair, high school, etc.) are not subject to the individual mandate for 2 years (out of the past six).
On the whole, uninsured Americans have worse health outcomes; cancers and other deadly diseases, for example, are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages in uninsured people. Uninsured pregnant women use fewer prenatal services and uninsured children and adults are less likely than their insured counterparts to have a primary care doctor whom they trust.
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.
The bottom line? Uninsured people tend to be sicker and are more likely to die prematurely than their peers who do have health insurance.  Even adults who are young and healthy can benefit from preventive care, annual checkups and chronic disease management – be it for allergies, depression, asthma, diabetes or another type of condition. And women, in particular, benefit from gynecological and reproductive care.

In November 2017, President Trump directed "the Department of Labor to investigate ways that would "allow more small businesses to avoid many of the [Affordable Care Act's] costly requirements."[81] Under the ACA, small-employer and individual markets had "gained important consumer protections under the ACA and state health laws — including minimum benefit levels."[81] In a December 28, 2017 interview with the New York Times, Trump explained that, "We've created associations, millions of people are joining associations. ...That were formerly in Obamacare or didn't have insurance. Or didn't have health care. ...It could be as high as 50 percent of the people. So now you have associations, and people don't even talk about the associations. That could be half the people are going to be joining up...So now you have associations and the individual mandate. I believe that because of the individual mandate and the association".[85]


The employer typically makes a substantial contribution towards the cost of coverage. Typically, employers pay about 85% of the insurance premium for their employees, and about 75% of the premium for their employees' dependents. The employee pays the remaining fraction of the premium, usually with pre-tax/tax-exempt earnings. These percentages have been stable since 1999.[58] Health benefits provided by employers are also tax-favored: Employee contributions can be made on a pre-tax basis if the employer offers the benefits through a section 125 cafeteria plan.
Health insurance absorbs or offsets healthcare costs associated with, but not limited to, routine health examinations, specialist referral visits, inpatient and outpatient surgery, unforeseen eventualities such as illnesses or injuries, and prescription medication. Health insurance policies are categorized as privately paid for by an individual, publicly provided as a service through Social Security, or commercially arranged by a company as part of an employee benefit package.
^ e.g. House Bill H.R.3962 Section 322 (b)2(B) "AMORTIZATION OF START-UP FUNDING- The Secretary shall provide for the repayment of the startup funding provided under subparagraph (A) to the Treasury in an amortized manner over the 10-year period beginning with Y1". The Senate HLP Committee bill contains a similar clause in § 3106 "A Health Benefit Plan Start-up Fund will be created to provide loans for initial operations, which the plan will be required to pay back no later than 10 years after the payment is made."
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.
Eligibility: Individuals who need coverage who are legally residing in the U.S. and who are not incarcerated are eligible to purchase coverage through their state’s Marketplace. Small employers with fewer than 50 full-time employers can also purchase coverage through the Marketplace. Insurance companies will not be allowed to deny coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions nor will they be allowed to charge higher premiums to people because of their health status.
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
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.[22] 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.[99][100]
Employer-sponsored health insurance is paid for by businesses on behalf of their employees as part of an employee benefit package. Most private (non-government) health coverage in the US is employment-based. Nearly all large employers in America offer group health insurance to their employees.[56] The typical large-employer PPO plan is typically more generous than either Medicare or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Standard Option.[57]

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.

Employer-sponsored health insurance is paid for by businesses on behalf of their employees as part of an employee benefit package. Most private (non-government) health coverage in the US is employment-based. Nearly all large employers in America offer group health insurance to their employees.[56] The typical large-employer PPO plan is typically more generous than either Medicare or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Standard Option.[57]

Foreseeing a long and costly political battle, many labor unions chose to campaign for employer-sponsored coverage, which they saw as a less desirable but more achievable goal, and as coverage expanded the national insurance system lost political momentum and ultimately failed to pass. Using health care and other fringe benefits to attract the best employees, private sector, white-collar employers nationwide expanded the U.S. health care system. Public sector employers followed suit in an effort to compete. Between 1940 and 1960, the total number of people enrolled in health insurance plans grew seven-fold, from 20,662,000 to 142,334,000,[26] and by 1958, 75% of Americans had some form of health coverage.[27]
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