According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, in 2018, the average American worker with employer-sponsored health insurance contributed $1,186 for a single employee health plan and $5,547 for a family health plan. Since this is an average, some employees may be paying much more (employers paid the bulk of the total premiums, which averaged $6,896 for single employees and $19,616 for family coverage).
Baylor Hospital, in Dallas, Texas, introduced the first pre-paid hospital insurance in 1929, offering to provide medical services to a group of Texas teachers for a premium of 50 cents a month. The plan worked on the principle of paying for the costs of care for a small group of sick individuals by spreading them out over a much larger pool. The concept caught on, and by the late 1930s, nearly 3 million Americans were enrolled in “Blue Cross” hospital plans.
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.
For some consumers, buying individual health insurance is the only health coverage option. However, even if you have health insurance from your employer, an individual/family health insurance policy may still be an option to save money. With health insurance premiums increasing every year and employers passing more of the costs onto their employees, your company's health insurance may not be the best deal, especially if you need to cover a family.
There are other plans available year-round that are not individual major medical coverage. Most of these plans are not recommended as stand-alone coverage (with the exception of short-term plans, which can be adequate stand-alone coverage if you're healthy and you know that you need the coverage for only a short time; they are usually not at all adequate for longer-term coverage). These plans are not regulated by the Affordable Care Act, which means they can exclude pre-existing conditions, impose dollar caps on your coverage, and don't have to cover the ACA's essential health benefits. In most cases, these plans cannot really be compared with an employer-sponsored plan, since the coverage will be so much lower quality. If an insurance offer sounds too good to be true, read the fine print carefully. It may end up being a poor substitute for real health insurance, and you don't want to learn those details after you have a major claim.
As mentioned above, the majority of Americans who have insurance obtain it through employer-sponsored, or group health insurance plans. The coverage has numerous advantages – among them cost (including the government income tax exemption for health benefits), ease of enrollment, and a wide range of plan options. (In addition to a health insurance plan, employees may have the option to purchase insurance for dental, life, short- and long-term disability.) Read here for more details about group health insurance plans.
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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.
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