Health insurance plans

Health insurance is insurance that covers the whole or a part of the risk of a person incurring medical expenses, spreading the risk over a large number of persons. By estimating the overall risk of health care and health system expenses over the risk pool, an insurer can develop a routine finance structure, such as a monthly premium or payroll tax, to provide the money to pay for the health care benefits specified in the insurance agreement.
The benefit is administered by a central organization such as a government agency, private business, or not-for-profit entity. According to the Health Insurance Association of America, health insurance is defined as «coverage that provides for the payments of benefits as a result of sickness or injury. It includes insurance for losses from accident, medical expense, disability, or accidental death and dismemberment»
Background
A health insurance policy is:

A contract between an insurance provider (e.g. an insurance company or a government) and an individual or his/her sponsor (e.g. an employer or a community organization). The contract can be renewable (e.g. annually, monthly) or lifelong in the case of private insurance, or be mandatory for all citizens in the case of national plans. The type and amount of health care costs that will be covered by the health insurance provider are specified in writing, in a member contract or «Evidence of Coverage» booklet for private insurance, or in a national health policy for public insurance.
(US specific) Provided by an employer-sponsored self-funded ERISA plan. The company generally advertises that they have one of the big insurance companies. However, in an ERISA case, that insurance company «doesn’t engage in the act of insurance», they just administer it. Therefore, ERISA plans are not subject to state laws. ERISA plans are governed by federal law under the jurisdiction of the US Department of Labor (USDOL). The specific benefits or coverage details are found in the Summary Plan Description (SPD). An appeal must go through the insurance company, then to the Employer’s Plan Fiduciary. If still required, the Fiduciary’s decision can be brought to the USDOL to review for ERISA compliance, and then file a lawsuit in federal court.
The individual insured person’s obligations may take several forms:[citation needed]

Premium: The amount the policy-holder or their sponsor (e.g. an employer) pays to the health plan to purchase health coverage.
Deductible: The amount that the insured must pay out-of-pocket before the health insurer pays its share. For example, policy-holders might have to pay a $500 deductible per year, before any of their health care is covered by the health insurer. It may take several doctor’s visits or prescription refills before the insured person reaches the deductible and the insurance company starts to pay for care. Furthermore, most policies do not apply co-pays for doctor’s visits or prescriptions against your deductible.
Co-payment: The amount that the insured person must pay out of pocket before the health insurer pays for a particular visit or service. For example, an insured person might pay a $45 co-payment for a doctor’s visit, or to obtain a prescription. A co-payment must be paid each time a particular service is obtained.
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.
Exclusions: Not all services are covered. Billed items like use-and-throw, taxes, etc are excluded from admissible claim. The insured are generally expected to pay the full cost of non-covered services out of their own pockets.
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.
Out-of-pocket maxima: Similar to coverage limits, except that in this case, the insured person’s payment obligation ends when they reach the out-of-pocket maximum, and health insurance pays all further covered costs. Out-of-pocket maxima can be limited to a specific benefit category (such as prescription drugs) or can apply to all coverage provided during a specific benefit year.
Capitation: An amount paid by an insurer to a health care provider, for which the provider agrees to treat all members of the insurer.
In-Network Provider: (U.S. term) A health care provider on a list of providers preselected by the insurer. The insurer will offer discounted coinsurance or co-payments, or additional benefits, to a plan member to see an in-network provider. Generally, providers in network are providers who have a contract with the insurer to accept rates further discounted from the «usual and customary» charges the insurer pays to out-of-network providers.
Prior Authorization: A certification or authorization that an insurer provides prior to medical service occurring. Obtaining an authorization means that the insurer is obligated to pay for the service, assuming it matches what was authorized. Many smaller, routine services do not require authorization.[3]
Explanation of Benefits: A document that may be sent by an insurer to a patient explaining what was covered for a medical service, and how payment amount and patient responsibility amount were determined.[3]
Prescription drug plans are a form of insurance offered through some health insurance plans. In the U.S., the patient usually pays a copayment and the prescription drug insurance part or all of the balance for drugs covered in the formulary of the plan. Such plans are routinely part of national health insurance programs. For example, in the province of Quebec, Canada, prescription drug insurance is universally required as part of the public health insurance plan, but may be purchased and administered either through private or group plans, or through the public plan.[4]

Some, if not most, health care providers in the United States will agree to bill the insurance company if patients are willing to sign an agreement that they will be responsible for the amount that the insurance company doesn’t pay. The insurance company pays out of network providers according to «reasonable and customary» charges, which may be less than the provider’s usual fee. The provider may also have a separate contract with the insurer to accept what amounts to a discounted rate or capitation to the provider’s standard charges. It generally costs the patient less to use an in-network provider.

Comparisons
See also: Health system

Health Expenditure per capita (in PPP-adjusted US$) among several OECD member nations. Data source: OECD’s iLibrary[5]
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.[6] 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.

Life Expectancy of the total population at birth from 2000 until 2011 among several OECD member nations. Data source: OECD’s iLibrary[7]
The Commonwealth Fund completed its thirteenth annual health policy survey in 2010.[8] A study of the survey «found significant differences in access, cost burdens, and problems with health insurance that are associated with insurance design».[8] Of the countries surveyed, the results indicated that people in the United States had more out-of-pocket expenses, more disputes with insurance companies than other countries, and more insurance payments denied; paperwork was also higher although Germany had similarly high levels of paperwork.[8]

Australia
Main article: Health care in Australia
The Australian public health system is called Medicare, which provides free universal access to hospital treatment and subsidised out-of-hospital medical treatment. It is funded by a 2% tax levy on all taxpayers, an extra 1% levy on high income earners, as well as general revenue.

The private health system is funded by a number of private health insurance organizations. The largest of these is Medibank Private Limited, which was, until 2014, a government-owned entity, when it was privatized and listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Australian health funds can be either ‘for profit’ including Bupa and nib; ‘mutual’ including Australian Unity; or ‘non-profit’ including GMHBA, HCF and the HBF Health Fund (HBF). Some, such as Police Health, have membership restricted to particular groups, but the majority have open membership. Membership to most health funds is now also available through comparison websites like moneytime, Compare the Market, iSelect Ltd., Choosi, ComparingExpert and YouCompare. These comparison sites operate on a commission-basis by agreement with their participating health funds. The Private Health Insurance Ombudsman also operates a free website which allows consumers to search for and compare private health insurers’ products, which includes information on price and level of cover.[9]

Most aspects of private health insurance in Australia are regulated by the Private Health Insurance Act 2007. Complaints and reporting of the private health industry is carried out by an independent government agency, the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman. The ombudsman publishes an annual report that outlines the number and nature of complaints per health fund compared to their market share [10]

The private health system in Australia operates on a «community rating» basis, whereby premiums do not vary solely because of a person’s previous medical history, current state of health, or (generally speaking) their age (but see Lifetime Health Cover below). Balancing this are waiting periods, in particular for pre-existing conditions (usually referred to within the industry as PEA, which stands for «pre-existing ailment»). Funds are entitled to impose a waiting period of up to 12 months on benefits for any medical condition the signs and symptoms of which existed during the six months ending on the day the person first took out insurance. They are also entitled to impose a 12-month waiting period for benefits for treatment relating to an obstetric condition, and a 2-month waiting period for all other benefits when a person first takes out private insurance. Funds have the discretion to reduce or remove such waiting periods in individual cases. They are also free not to impose them to begin with, but this would place such a fund at risk of «adverse selection», attracting a disproportionate number of members from other funds, or from the pool of intending members who might otherwise have joined other funds. It would also attract people with existing medical conditions, who might not otherwise have taken out insurance at all because of the denial of benefits for 12 months due to the PEA Rule. The benefits paid out for these conditions would create pressure on premiums for all the fund’s members, causing some to drop their membership, which would lead to further rises in premiums, and a vicious cycle of higher premiums-leaving members would ensue.

The Australian government has introduced a number of incentives to encourage adults to take out private hospital insurance. These include:

Lifetime Health Cover: If a person has not taken out private hospital cover by 1 July after their 31st birthday, then when (and if) they do so after this time, their premiums must include a loading of 2% per annum for each year they were without hospital cover. Thus, a person taking out private cover for the first time at age 40 will pay a 20 percent loading. The loading is removed after 10 years of continuous hospital cover. The loading applies only to premiums for hospital cover, not to ancillary (extras) cover.
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.
The Australian government announced in May 2008 that it proposes to increase the thresholds, to $100,000 for singles and $150,000 for families. These changes require legislative approval. A bill to change the law has been introduced but was not passed by the Senate.[12] An amended version was passed on 16 October 2008. There have been criticisms that the changes will cause many people to drop their private health insurance, causing a further burden on the public hospital system, and a rise in premiums for those who stay with the private system. Other commentators believe the effect will be minimal.[13]
Private Health Insurance Rebate: The government subsidises the premiums for all private health insurance cover, including hospital and ancillary (extras), by 10%, 20% or 30%, depending on age. The Rudd Government announced in May 2009 that as of July 2010, the Rebate would become means-tested, and offered on a sliding scale. While this move (which would have required legislation) was defeated in the Senate at the time, in early 2011 the Gillard Government announced plans to reintroduce the legislation after the Opposition loses the balance of power in the Senate. The ALP and Greens have long been against the rebate, referring to it as «middle-class welfare».[14]
Canada
Main article: Health care in Canada
Health care is mainly a constitutional, provincial government responsibility in Canada (the main exceptions being federal government responsibility for services provided to aboriginal peoples covered by treaties, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the armed forces, and members of parliament). Consequently, each province administers its own health insurance program. The federal government influences health insurance by virtue of its fiscal powers – it transfers cash and tax points to the provinces to help cover the costs of the universal health insurance programs. Under the Canada Health Act, the federal government mandates and enforces the requirement that all people have free access to what are termed «medically necessary services,» defined primarily as care delivered by physicians or in hospitals, and the nursing component of long term residential care. If provinces allow doctors or institutions to charge patients for medically necessary services, the federal government reduces its payments to the provinces by the amount of the prohibited charges. Collectively, the public provincial health insurance systems in Canada are frequently referred to as Medicare.[15] This public insurance is tax-funded out of general government revenues, although British Columbia and Ontario levy a mandatory premium with flat rates for individuals and families to generate additional revenues – in essence a surtax. Private health insurance is allowed, but in six provincial governments only for services that the public health plans do not cover, for example, semi-private or private rooms in hospitals and prescription drug plans. Four provinces allow insurance for services also mandated by the Canada Health Act, but in practice there is no market for it. All Canadians are free to use private insurance for elective medical services such as laser vision correction surgery, cosmetic surgery, and other non-basic medical procedures. Some 65% of Canadians have some form of supplementary private health insurance; many of them receive it through their employers.[16] Private-sector services not paid for by the government account for nearly 30 percent of total health care spending.[17]

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]

China
Main articles: Healthcare reform in the People’s Republic of China and Pharmaceutical industry in the People’s Republic of China
France
Main article: Health care in France
The national system of health insurance was instituted in 1945, just after the end of the Second World War. It was a compromise between Gaullist and Communist representatives in the French parliament. The Conservative Gaullists were opposed to a state-run healthcare system, while the Communists were supportive of a complete nationalisation of health care along a British Beveridge model.

The resulting programme is profession-based: all people working are required to pay a portion of their income to a not-for-profit health insurance fund, which mutualises the risk of illness, and which reimburses medical expenses at varying rates. Children and spouses of insured people are eligible for benefits, as well. Each fund is free to manage its own budget, and used to reimburse medical expenses at the rate it saw fit, however following a number of reforms in recent years, the majority of funds provide the same level of reimbursement and benefits.

The government has two responsibilities in this system.

The first government responsibility is the fixing of the rate at which medical expenses should be negotiated, and it does so in two ways: The Ministry of Health directly negotiates prices of medicine with the manufacturers, based on the average price of sale observed in neighboring countries. A board of doctors and experts decides if the medicine provides a valuable enough medical benefit to be reimbursed (note that most medicine is reimbursed, including homeopathy). In parallel, the government fixes the reimbursement rate for medical services: this means that a doctor is free to charge the fee that he wishes for a consultation or an examination, but the social security system will only reimburse it at a pre-set rate. These tariffs are set annually through negotiation with doctors’ representative organisations.
The second government responsibility is oversight of the health-insurance funds, to ensure that they are correctly managing the sums they receive, and to ensure oversight of the public hospital network.
Today, this system is more or less intact. All citizens and legal foreign residents of France are covered by one of these mandatory programs, which continue to be funded by worker participation. However, since 1945, a number of major changes have been introduced. Firstly, the different health care funds (there are five: General, Independent, Agricultural, Student, Public Servants) now all reimburse at the same rate. Secondly, since 2000, the government now provides health care to those who are not covered by a mandatory regime (those who have never worked and who are not students, meaning the very rich or the very poor). This regime, unlike the worker-financed ones, is financed via general taxation and reimburses at a higher rate than the profession-based system for those who cannot afford to make up the difference. Finally, to counter the rise in health care costs, the government has installed two plans, (in 2004 and 2006), which require insured people to declare a referring doctor in order to be fully reimbursed for specialist visits, and which installed a mandatory co-pay of 1 € (about $1.45) for a doctor visit, 0,50 € (about 80¢) for each box of medicine prescribed, and a fee of 16–18 € ($20–25) per day for hospital stays and for expensive procedures.

An important element of the French insurance system is solidarity: the more ill a person becomes, the less the person pays. This means that for people with serious or chronic illnesses, the insurance system reimburses them 100% of expenses, and waives their co-pay charges.

Finally, for fees that the mandatory system does not cover, there is a large range of private complementary insurance plans available. The market for these programs is very competitive, and often subsidised by the employer, which means that premiums are usually modest. 85% of French people benefit from complementary private health insurance.[19]

Germany
Main article: Healthcare in Germany
Germany has the world’s oldest national social health insurance system,[20] with origins dating back to Otto von Bismarck’s Sickness Insurance Law of 1883.[21][22]

Currently 85% of the population is covered by a basic health insurance plan provided by statute, which provides a standard level of coverage. The remainder opt for private health insurance, which frequently offers additional benefits. According to the World Health Organization, Germany’s health care system was 77% government-funded and 23% privately funded as of 2004.[23]

The government partially reimburses the costs for low-wage workers, whose premiums are capped at a predetermined value. Higher wage workers pay a premium based on their salary. They may also opt for private insurance, which is generally more expensive, but whose price may vary based on the individual’s health status.[24]

Reimbursement is on a fee-for-service basis, but the number of physicians allowed to accept Statutory Health Insurance in a given locale is regulated by the government and professional societies.

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).[25][26] 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).[27]

Insurance systems
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.

Germany has a universal multi-payer system with two main types of health insurance: law enforced health insurance (or public health insurance) (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (GKV)) and private insurance (Private Krankenversicherung (PKV)). Both systems struggle with the increasing cost of medical treatment and the changing demography. About 87.5% of the persons with health insurance are members of the public system, while 12.5% are covered by private insurance (as of 2006).[28] There are many differences between the public health insurance and private insurance. In general the benefits and costs in the private insurance are better for young people without family. There are hard salary requirements to join the private insurance because it is getting more expensive advanced in years.[29]

Statutory health insurance/Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (GKV)
The statutory health insurance (est. in 1883) is part of the German social insurance system, together with the statutory accident insurance (est. 1883), the statutory old age and disability insurance (est. in 1889), the unemployment insurance (est. in 1927) and the long term care insurance (est. in 1995).[citation needed]

Since 2009, health insurance is mandatory for anyone living in Germany.[30]

The statutory health insurance is a compulsory insurance for employees with a yearly income below €54.900 (in 2015, adjusted annually) and others.

History
With the ‘Imperial Bill of 15 June 1883’ and its update from 10 April 1892 the health insurance bill was created, which introduced compulsory health insurance for workers. Austria followed Germany in 1888, Hungary in 1891 and Switzerland in 1911.

On 29 April 1869 the county health insurance ill[clarification needed] in Bavaria created the first law that introduced and regulated health insurance for low income earners. It was limited to individuals with an income less than 2000 Mark per year and guaranteed the insured person a 60% minimum income during sickness.[citation needed]

Function
Function of the statutory health insurance according to § 1 SGB V is to preserve, recreate or improve health of the insured person. According to § 27 SGB V this includes to «subdue the afflictions of illness».[31]

All insured fundamentally have the same entitlement for benefits. The scope of benefits is regulated in SGB V («social insurance bill five») and limited by § 1 SGB V. Benefits have to be adequate, appropriate and economic and shall not exceed the necessary for the insured.[32]

Additional benefits can only be granted based on particular regulations based on formal law. These are e.g. additional service for the prevention of sickness, care at home, household support, rehabilitation etc.[citation needed]

Based on the principle of solidarity and compulsory membership, the calculation of fees differs from private health insurance in that it does not depend on personal health or health criteria like age or sex, but is connected to one’s personal income by a fixed percentage. The aim is to cover the risk of high cost from illness that an individual can not bear alone.[citation needed]

Organization
The German legislature has reduced the number of public health insurance organisations from 1209 in 1991 down to 123 in 2015.[33]

The public health insurance organisations (Krankenkassen) are the Ersatzkassen (EK), Allgemeine Ortskrankenkassen (AOK), Betriebskrankenkassen (BKK