For those who don’t have access to employer-sponsored plans, coverage on the individual market is an option. This market has changed dramatically as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Prior to 2014, in most states, individual coverage was medically underwritten, which meant that coverage was only available for purchase if the applicant was at least fairly healthy, as the insurance companies would closely scrutinize your complete medical history when you applied. Coverage in the individual market was typically not as robust as employer-sponsored health insurance; maternity care, prescription drugs, and mental health care were often missing from the coverage. And people who purchased individual market coverage prior to 2014 had to pay the whole premium themselves.
These plans meet all the requirements of the health care law, including covering pre-existing conditions, providing free preventive care, and not capping annual benefits. If you have one of these plans, you won’t have to pay the fee that people without coverage must pay through the 2018 plan year. (Note: Starting with the 2019 plan year (for which you’ll file taxes in April 2020), the fee no longer applies.)
Anthem Blue Cross is an HMO plan with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in Anthem Blue Cross depends on contract renewal. Anthem Blue Cross is the trade name of Blue Cross of California. Independent licensee of the Blue Cross Association. ANTHEM is a registered trademark of Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc. The Blue Cross name and symbol are registered marks of the Blue Cross Association.
How do the benefits differ? What would you owe in out-of-pocket costs if you were to be injured or get seriously ill? How does that compare with your out-of-pocket exposure on the employer-sponsored plan? Are your doctors in the network of the individual plan? You'll want to carefully consider all of these things before switching, and keep in mind that you won't be able to rejoin your employer's plan until the next open enrollment window offered by your employer.
But the ACA changed all that. Medical underwriting is no longer used, although applicants can now only enroll during open enrollment or a special enrollment period triggered by a qualifying event (similar to how enrollment works for employer-sponsored plans). Essential health benefits are now covered on all new individual major medical plans in every state. And millions of people are receiving premium subsidies that cover the majority of their premiums for plans purchased in each state’s health insurance exchange (the ACA’s consumer protection reforms apply to plans sold outside the exchanges as well, but the subsidies are only available in the exchange). The ACA also limits the percentage of premiums that insurers can use for administrative costs, including profits and executives’ salaries; insurers have refunded billions of dollars to consumers as a result of the new rules.
Nearly a century later, private health insurance continues to dominate the U.S. health care landscape. Despite attempts by U.S. Presidents, including Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, government-sponsored universal health care never materialized. And, although President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law in the 1960s to provide a safety net for citizens over age 65, the majority of Americans under 65 continue to get their health care from private insurers.