Health insurance is insurance that pays for medical expenses. It is sometimes used more broadly to include insurance covering disability or long-term nursing or custodial care needs. It may be provided through a government-sponsored social insurance program, or from private insurance companies. It may be purchased on a group basis (e.g., by a firm to cover its employees) or purchased by individual consumers. In each case, the covered groups or individuals pay premiums or taxes to help protect themselves from high or unexpected healthcare expenses. Similar benefits paying for medical expenses may also be provided through social welfare programs funded by the government.
By estimating the overall risk of healthcare expenses, a routine finance structure (such as a monthly premium or annual tax) can be developed, ensuring that money is available to pay for the healthcare 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.
History and evolution
The concept of health insurance was proposed in 1694 by Hugh the Elder Chamberlen from the Peter Chamberlen family. In the late 19th century, “accident insurance” began to be available, which operated much like modern disability insurance. This payment model continued until the start of the 20th century in some jurisdictions (like California), where all laws regulating health insurance actually referred to disability insurance.
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.
Before the development of medical expense insurance, patients were expected to pay all other health care costs out of their own pockets, under what is known as the fee-for-service business model. During the middle to late 20th century, traditional disability insurance evolved into modern health insurance programs. Today, most comprehensive private health insurance programs cover the cost of routine, preventive, and emergency health care procedures, and also most prescription drugs, but this was not always the case.
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. The predecessors of today’s Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) originated beginning in 1929, through the 1930s and on during World War II.
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is a publicly funded healthcare system that provides coverage to everyone normally resident in the UK. It is not strictly an insurance system because (a) there are no premiums collected, (b) costs are not charged at the patient level and (c) costs are not pre-paid from a pool. However, it does achieve the main aim of insurance which is to spread financial risk arising from ill-health. The costs of running the NHS (est. £104 billion in 2007-8) are met directly from general taxation. The NHS provides the majority of health care in the UK, including primary care, in-patient care, long-term health care, ophthalmology and dentistry.
Private health care has continued parallel to the NHS, paid for largely by private insurance, but it is used by less than 8% of the population, and generally as a top-up to NHS services. There are many treatments that the private sector does not provide. For example, health insurance on pregnancy is generally not covered or covered with restricting clauses. One of the major insurers, BUPA, excludes many forms of treatment and care that most people will need during their lifetime or specialist care most of which are freely available from the NHS. These include:
ageing, menopause and puberty; AIDS/HIV; allergies or allergic disorders; birth control, conception, sexual problems and sex changes; chronic conditions; complications from excluded or restricted conditions/ treatment; convalescence, rehabilitation and general nursing care ; cosmetic, reconstructive or weight loss treatment; deafness; dental/oral treatment (such as fillings, gum disease, jaw shrinkage, etc); dialysis; drugs and dressings for out-patient or take-home use† ; experimental drugs and treatment; eyesight; HRT and bone densitometry; learning difficulties, behavioural and developmental problems; overseas treatment and repatriation; physical aids and devices; pre-existing or special conditions; pregnancy and childbirth; screening and preventive treatment; sleep problems and disorders; speech disorders; temporary relief of symptoms. ( except in exceptional circumstances)
BUPA’s competitors include, among others, AXA, Aviva, Groupama Healthcare and Pru Health.
Recently the private sector has been used to increase NHS capacity despite a large proportion of the British public opposing such involvement. According to the World Health Organization, government funding covered 86% of overall health care expenditures in the UK as of 2004, with private expenditures covering the remaining 14%.