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.
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.
There are other online brokerages, both large and small, that can help you sort out the individual market health insurance options available in your area. Most of them can show you plans that are available in the exchange as well as options that are only available outside the exchange (no subsidies are available outside the exchange, but as noted above, you're probably not eligible for subsidies anyway, if you have access to an employer-sponsored plan).
But it's also worth noting that if they keep the employer-sponsored plan for the whole family, the premiums will almost certainly be payroll deducted on the pre-tax basis. On the other hand, if they opt to buy an individual market plan, the premiums would only be tax deductible to the extent that they (along with other medical expenses) exceed 10 percent of the family's household income, and assuming that the family opts to itemize their tax deductions (increasingly rare now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has greatly increased the standard deduction).
There are premium subsidies available in the exchange, but you're not eligible for them if the plan offered by your employer is considered affordable and provides minimum value (this is true for your family members as well, if they have access to your employer-sponsored plan, even if the employer-sponsored plan is only affordable for the employee's portion of the coverage; this is known as the family glitch). Most employer-sponsored plans are affordable and do provide minimum value. So if you're shopping for an individual market plan instead, chances are high that you'll have to pay full price for it, without any subsidies.
A good place to start is HealthCare.gov. This is the health insurance exchange created by the The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and is a one-stop shop for private individual market health insurance plans (note that the exchange itself is run by the government, but the health plans for sale in the exchange are all private, from the health insurance companies with which you're already familiar). People in 39 states use HealthCare.gov to enroll in individual market plans. The other 11 states and the District of Columbia have state-run exchanges, and you'll be directed to their sites from HealthCare.gov when you select your state.
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.
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