Health Insurance in the United States: What You Need to Know

In the United States, health insurance is a necessity for most people. Nearly every American citizen must have health insurance, either through their employer, privately, or through a government program like Medicare or Medicaid.

Health insurance covers most necessary medical expenses, including doctor's visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, and laboratory tests. However, it doesn't cover everything, and you're still responsible for out-of-pocket costs.

Different types of health insurance plans are available, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Choosing a plan that meets your needs and budget is the most important thing.

Here's what you need to know about health insurance in the US, including the costs, coverage, and types.

How does health insurance work?

Health insurance helps pay for medical expenses. It's a contract between you and an insurance provider. You agree to pay the company a monthly premium, and in return, they agree to pay your medical expenses up to a set limit.

Besides the monthly premium, you may also have to pay other out-of-pocket costs, such as:

  • Deductible: An amount you must pay for medical care before your insurance company starts paying.
  • Copayments: A fixed amount you pay for a medical service, such as a $20 fee for a doctor visit.
  • Coinsurance: A percentage of a medical service's cost that you pay, such as 15% of the cost of surgery.

There are many different types of health insurance, and each one works differently. For example, some plans may cover only hospitalization expenses, while others may also cover doctor's visits, prescription drugs, and preventive care.

It's important to understand how your particular plan works before you need to use it. That way, you'll know what's covered and what isn't and how much you'll have to pay out-of-pocket for your treatments.

What are the different types of health insurance?

There are multiple types of health insurance policies available in the US. The government provides Medicare for those over 65 and Medicaid for people on a low income. Other people get health insurance through their employers or buy it privately.

The most common types of health insurance plans are:

  • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs): These plans require you to use doctors and other healthcare providers who are part of the HMO network. You'll usually need a referral from your primary care doctor to see a specialist.
  • Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs): These policies have higher monthly premiums than HMOs, but they also have more flexible provider networks. You can see any doctor you want, but you'll pay less if you use doctors in the PPO network. You don't need a referral to see a specialist.
  • Exclusive provider organizations (EPOs): These plans are similar to PPOs but have even narrower networks of doctors and other providers. You'll pay less if you use in-network providers, but you won't be able to see out-of-network providers at all except in an emergency.
  • Point-of-Service Plans (POS): These plans combine HMOs and PPOs. They usually have a network of providers, but you can also see out-of-network providers, although you'll pay more.
  • High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs): These plans have lower monthly premiums but high deductibles. That means you'll have to pay a lot out of pocket before your insurance company starts to pay.
  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs): These savings accounts can be used to pay for medical expenses. They're only available if you have an HDHP.

Many of these policies are available in bronze, silver, gold, and platinum levels. Bronze plans have the least coverage and lowest cost, while platinum plans have the most coverage and highest cost.

How much is average health insurance in the USA?

Across the United States, people pay considerably different monthly premiums for health insurance. Many factors affect what you'll pay, including:

  • Type of insurance
  • Provider
  • Income
  • Location
  • Age
  • Smoking history

According to eHealth's recent study, in 2020, the average premium for a Marketplace insurance policy was $456 for an individual and $1,152 for a family. For employer-assisted health insurance, the average annual premiums in 2021 are $7,739 for a single person and $22,221 for family coverage.

Why is healthcare in the US so expensive?

The US spends more on healthcare than any other country. There are many reasons why it's so expensive, including:

  • The high cost of drugs and medical procedures.
  • The administrative costs of running a healthcare system.
  • The high salaries of doctors and other healthcare providers.
  • The high cost of malpractice insurance.
  • The profit motive of insurance companies and hospitals.
  • Inefficient delivery of care.
  • Lack of preventative care.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped to lower the cost of healthcare for many Americans by providing lower-cost health insurance coverage and financially protecting people against potentially high healthcare costs.

How many Americans have no health insurance?

According to the US Census Bureau, 8.6% of people in the US, or 28 million people, did not have health insurance in 2020.

What are the risks of having no insurance?

The federal legislation that once required everyone to have healthcare coverage has been dropped, but many states still issue tax penalties to uninsured residents. So if you don't have health insurance in these states, you'll have to pay your healthcare costs out of pocket and can expect an additional tax penalty.

There are also health risks if you don't have health insurance. If you become ill or have an accident, you'll have to pay all the medical bills. It could ruin you financially, especially if you need expensive treatments or surgeries.

Because of high healthcare costs, around 24% of uninsured people hesitate to see a doctor when they're sick. There is then the risk of serious health problems going undetected and untreated, which could lead to complications and serious health consequences.


Health insurance is a vital part of the US healthcare system, and it's important to understand how it works before you need to use it.

There are different types of health insurance plans, and the one you choose will depend on your needs and budget. You'll need to pay monthly premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance.

If you don't have health insurance, you'll have to pay medical bills out of pocket, which has significant financial repercussions. You're also at risk of not getting necessary care, which could harm your health and well-being.

Key takeaways

Health insurance is a vital part of the US healthcare system, that's compulsory in some states.

Policies may cover things like doctor's visits, hospital stays, surgeries, and prescription drugs.

There are various types of health insurance plans, and the one you choose depends on your needs and budget.

If you don't have health insurance, you're at risk of having to pay costly medical bills, which could cause lasting financial problems.


EHealth. ACA Index Report on Unsubsidized Consumers in the 2020 Open Enrollment Period

Keiser Family Foundation. 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey

Keiser Family Foundation. How does health spending in the US compare to other countries?

Keiser Family Foundation. Key Facts about the Uninsured Population

United States Census Bureau. Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2020

Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics. Why is health care so expensive in the United States?

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