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 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
Today, the United States is the only westernized country with no form of universal health insurance coverage for its citizens. In 2004, U.S. health insurers directly employed almost 470,000 people at an average salary of $61,409. (As of the fourth quarter of 2007, the total U.S. labor force stood at 153.6 million, of whom 146.3 million were employed. Employment related to all forms of insurance totaled 2.3 million. Mean annual earnings for full-time civilian workers as of June 2006 were $41,231; median earnings were $33,634.)
The United States health care system relies heavily on private health insurance, which is the primary source of coverage for most Americans. According to the CDC, approximately 58% of Americans have private health insurance. Public programs provide the primary source of coverage for most senior citizens and for low-income children and families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The primary public programs are Medicare, a federal social insurance program for seniors and certain disabled individuals, Medicaid, funded jointly by the federal government and states but administered at the state level, which covers certain very low income children and their families, and SCHIP, also a federal-state partnership that serves certain children and families who do not qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford private coverage. Other public programs include military health benefits provided through TRICARE and the Veterans Health Administration and benefits provided through the Indian Health Service. Some states have additional programs for low-income individuals.
A recent study found that 62 percent of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were linked to medical expenses. Of those who filed for bankruptcy, nearly 80 percent had health insurance. In just three years, the Medicare and Medicaid programs will account for 50 percent of all national health spending. This has fueled an outcry for an overhaul of the health care system in the United States. The House of Representatives passed a health care reform bill by a vote of 220-215 on November 7, 2009. Currently the fate of the bill rests on the Senate. The legislation once included changes that would give the government the power to negotiate policy premiums and to provide a public option, but in an effort to acquire the necessary votes to prevent a Republican filibuster the public option was eliminated from the bill. This would have given citizens the option to buy into public programs like Medicare for which current members pay only $96.40 monthly. Instead the bill now requires that all American's purchase private health insurance or be subject to fines. The insurance industry represents a significant lobbying group in the United States. The major health interests have spent an average of $1.4 million per day to lobby Congress so far this year and are on track to spend more than half a billion dollars by the end 2009. This data may be indicative of why the current bill no longer offers a public option.