Have you ever started reading through a health insurance flier or website and stopped after a few sentences because NOTHING was in a language you understood? HealthCare.com has you covered. Here’s an extensive glossary of health insurance and medical terms to help you translate health insurance jargon into understandable language. These terms and definitions are intended to be a guide, and you should know that some companies or organizations could have somewhat different meanings than we’ve given here. We have gleaned reliable information from government sources.
Affordable Care Act
Often called “”Obamacare,” this is the comprehensive health care reform law enacted in March 2010. Though it was enacted in two parts, the name “Affordable Care Act” is used to refer to the final, amended version of the law.
Maximum amount on which payment is based for covered health care services. This may be called “eligible expense,” “payment allowance” or “negotiated rate.” If your provider charges more than the allowed amount, you may have to pay the difference.
A cap on the benefits your insurance company will pay in a year while you’re enrolled in a particular health insurance plan. These caps are sometimes placed on particular services such as prescriptions or hospitalizations. Annual limits may be placed on the dollar amount of covered services or on the number of visits that will be covered for a particular service. After an annual limit is reached, you must pay all associated health care costs for the rest of the year.
A request for your health insurer or plan to review a decision or a grievance again.
When a provider bills you for the difference between the provider’s charge and the allowed amount. For example, if the provider’s charge is $100 and the allowed amount is $70, the provider may bill you for the remaining $30. A preferred provider may not balance bill you for covered services.
The health care items or services covered under a health insurance plan. Covered benefits and excluded services are defined in the health insurance plan’s coverage documents.
An agent or broker is a person or business who can help you apply for help paying for coverage and enroll in a Qualified Health Plan (QHP) through the Marketplace. They can make specific recommendations about which plan you should enroll in. They’re also licensed and regulated by states and typically get payments, or commissions, from health insurers for enrolling a consumer into an issuer’s plans. Some brokers may only be able to sell plans from specific health insurers.
Catastrophic Health Insurance Plan
People under 30 and people with hardship exemptions may buy a “catastrophic” health insurance plan. This type of plan mainly protects you from very high medical costs from worst-case scenarios like serious accidents or illnesses. A catastrophic plan generally requires you to pay all of your medical costs up to a certain amount, usually several thousand dollars, after which the plan covers you. The premium amount you pay each month for health care is generally lower than for other Qualified Health Plans, but the out-of-pocket costs for deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance are generally higher. In the Marketplace, catastrophic plans cover 3 primary care visits per year at no cost, even before you’ve met your deductible.
Children’s Comprehensive Insurance Program (CHIP)
Insurance program jointly funded by state and federal government that provides health coverage to low-income children and, in some states, pregnant women in families who earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford to purchase private health insurance coverage.
A request for payment that you or your health care provider submits to your health insurer when you get items or services you think are covered.
A Federal law that may allow you to temporarily keep health coverage after your employment ends, you lose coverage as a dependent of the covered employee, or another qualifying event. If you elect COBRA coverage, you pay 100% of the premiums, including the share the employer used to pay, plus a small administrative fee.
Your share of the costs of a covered health care service, calculated as a percent (for example, 20%) of the allowed amount for the service. You pay co-insurance plus any deductibles you owe. For example, if the health insurance or plan’s allowed amount for an office visit is $100 and you’ve met your deductible, your co-insurance payment of 20% would be $20. The health insurance or plan pays the rest of the allowed amount.
Complications of Pregnancy
Conditions due to pregnancy, labor and delivery that require medical care to prevent serious harm to the health of the mother or the fetus. Morning sickness and a non-emergency caesarean section aren’t complications of pregnancy.
A fixed amount (for example, $15) you pay for a covered health care service, usually when you receive the service. The amount can vary by the type of covered health care service.
The amount you owe for health care services your health insurance or plan covers before your health insurance or plan begins to pay. For example, if your deductible is $1000, your plan won’t pay anything until you’ve met your $1000 deductible for covered health care services subject to the deductible. The deductible may not apply to all services.
Insurance coverage for family members of the policyholder, such as spouses, children, or partners.
Durable Medical Equipment (DME)
Equipment and supplies ordered by a health care provider for everyday or extended use. Coverage for DME may include: oxygen equipment, wheelchairs, crutches or blood testing strips for diabetics.
Emergency Medical Condition
An illness, injury, symptom or condition so serious that a reasonable person would seek care right away to avoid severe harm.
Emergency Medical Transportation
Ambulance services for an emergency medical condition.
Emergency Room Care
Emergency services you get in an emergency room.
Evaluation of an emergency medical condition and treatment to keep the condition from getting worse.
Essential Health Benefits
A set of healthcare service categories that must be covered by certain plans, which started in 2014. The Affordable Care Act ensures health insurance plans offered in the individual and small group markets, both inside and outside of the Health Insurance Marketplace, offer a comprehensive package of items and services, known as essential health benefits. Essential health benefits must include items and services within at least the following 10 categories: ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care. Insurance policies must cover these benefits in order to be certified and offered in the Health Insurance Marketplace. States expanding their Medicaid programs must provide these benefits to people newly eligible for Medicaid.
Health care services that your health insurance or plan doesn’t pay for or cover.
Flexible Benefits Plan
A benefit program that offers employees a choice between various benefits including cash, life insurance, health insurance, vacations, retirement plans, and child care. Although a common core of benefits may be required, you can choose how your remaining benefit dollars are to be allocated for each type of benefit from the total amount promised by the employer. Sometimes you can contribute more for additional coverage. Also known as a Cafeteria plan or IRS 125 Plan.
A list of prescription drugs covered by a prescription drug plan or another insurance plan offering prescription drug benefits. Also called a drug list.
A prescription drug that has the same active-ingredient formula as a brand-name drug. Generic drugs usually cost less than brand-name drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rates these drugs to be as safe and effective as brand-name drugs.
A complaint that you communicate to your health insurer or plan.
Health care services that help a person keep, learn or improve skills and functioning for daily living. Examples include therapy for a child who isn’t walking or talking at the expected age. These services may include physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and other services for people with disabilities in a variety of inpatient and/or outpatient settings.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most people must pay a fee if they don’t have health coverage that qualifies as “minimum essential coverage.” One exception is based on showing that a “hardship” prevented them from becoming insured.
A contract that requires your health insurer to pay some or all of your health care costs in exchange for a premium.
Home Health Care
Health care services a person receives at home.
Services to provide comfort and support for persons in the last stages of a terminal illness and their families.
Care in a hospital that requires admission as an inpatient and usually requires an overnight stay. An overnight stay for observation could be outpatient care.
Hospital Outpatient Care
Care in a hospital that usually doesn’t require an overnight stay.
Individual Health Insurance Policy
Policies for people that aren’t connected to job-based coverage. Individual health insurance policies are regulated under state law.
The percent (for example, 20%) you pay of the allowed amount for covered health care services to providers who contract with your health insurance or plan. In-network co-insurance usually costs you less than out-of-network co-insurance.
A fixed amount (for example, $15) you pay for covered health care services to providers who contract with your health insurance or plan. In-network co-payments usually are less than out-of-network co-payments.
Lifetime Maximum Limit
A cap on the total lifetime benefits you may get from your insurance company. An insurance company may impose a total lifetime dollar limit on benefits (like a $1 million lifetime cap) or limits on specific benefits (like a $200,000 lifetime cap on organ transplants or one gastric bypass per lifetime) or a combination of the two. After a lifetime limit is reached, the insurance plan will no longer pay for covered services.
A resource where individuals, families, and small businesses can: learn about their health coverage options; compare health insurance plans based on costs, benefits, and other important features; choose a plan; and enroll in coverage. The Marketplace also provides information on programs that help people with low to moderate income and resources pay for coverage. This includes ways to save on the monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs of coverage available through the Marketplace, and information about other programs, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Marketplace encourages competition among private health plans, and is accessible through websites, call centers, and in-person assistance. In some states, the Marketplace is run by the state. In others it is run by the federal government — www.healthcare.gov.
A state-administered health insurance program for low-income families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities, and in some states, other adults. The Federal government provides a portion of the funding for Medicaid and sets guidelines for the program. States also have choices in how they design their program, so Medicaid varies state by state and may have a different name in your state.
A Federal health insurance program for people who are age 65 or older and certain younger people with disabilities. It also covers people with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD).
Health care services or supplies needed to prevent, diagnose or treat an illness, injury, condition, disease or its symptoms and that meet accepted standards of medicine.
The facilities, providers and suppliers your health insurer or plan has contracted with to provide health care services.
A provider who doesn’t have a contract with your health insurer or plan to provide services to you. You’ll pay more to see a non-preferred provider. Check your policy to see if you can go to all providers who have contracted with your health insurance or plan, or if your health insurance or plan has a “tiered” network and you must pay extra to see some providers.
Open Enrollment Period
The period of time during which individuals who are eligible to enroll in a Qualified Health Plan can enroll in a plan in the Marketplace. For coverage starting in 2014, the Open Enrollment Period is October 1, 2013–March 31, 2014. For coverage starting in 2015, the Open Enrollment Period is November 15, 2014–February 15, 2015. Individuals may also qualify for Special Enrollment Periods outside of Open Enrollment if they experience certain events. You can apply for Medicaid or CHIP, at any time of the year.
The percent (for example, 40%) you pay of the allowed amount for covered health care services to providers who do not contract with your health insurance or plan. Out-of-network co-insurance usually costs you more than in-network co-insurance.
A fixed amount (for example, $30) you pay for covered health care services from providers who do not contract with your health insurance or plan. Out-of-network co-payments usually are more than in-network co-payments.
The most you pay during a policy period (usually a year) before your health insurance or plan begins to pay 100% of the allowed amount. This limit never includes your premium, balance-billed charges or health care your health insurance or plan doesn’t cover. Some health insurance or plans don’t count all of your co-payments, deductibles, co-insurance payments, out-of-network payments or other expenses toward this limit.
If someone doesn’t have a health plan that qualifies as minimum essential coverage, he or she may have to pay a fee that increases every year: from 1% of income (or $95 per adult, whichever is higher) in 2014 to 2.5% of income (or $695 per adult) in 2016. The fee for children is half the adult amount. The fee is paid on the 2014 federal income tax form, which is completed in 2015. People with very low incomes and others may be eligible for waivers.
Health care services a licensed medical physician (M.D. – Medical Doctor or D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) provides or coordinates.
A decision by your health insurer or plan that a health care service, treatment plan, prescription drug or durable medical equipment is medically necessary. Sometimes called prior authorization, prior approval or precertification. Your health insurance or plan may require preauthorization for certain services before you receive them, except in an emergency. Preauthorization isn’t a promise your health insurance or plan will cover the cost.
A provider who has a contract with your health insurer or plan to provide services to you at a discount. Check your policy to see if you can see all preferred providers or if your health insurance or plan has a “tiered” network and you must pay extra to see some providers. Your health insurance or plan may have preferred providers who are also “participating” providers. Participating providers also contract with your health insurer or plan, but the discount may not be as great, and you may have to pay more.
The amount that must be paid for your health insurance or plan. You and/or your employer usually pay it monthly, quarterly or yearly.
Prescription Drug Coverage
Health insurance or plan that helps pay for prescription drugs and medications.
Drugs and medications that by law require a prescription.
Primary Care Physician
A physician (M.D. – Medical Doctor or D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) who directly provides or coordinates a range of health care services for a patient.
Primary Care Provider
A physician (M.D. – Medical Doctor or D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine), nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist or physician assistant, as allowed under state law, who provides, coordinates or helps a patient access a range of health care services.
A physician (M.D. – Medical Doctor or D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine), health care professional or health care facility licensed, certified or accredited as required by state law.
Qualified Health Plan
Under the Affordable Care Act, starting in 2014, an insurance plan that is certified by the Health Insurance Marketplace, provides essential health benefits, follows established limits on cost-sharing (like deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket maximum amounts), and meets other requirements. A qualified health plan will have a certification by each Marketplace in which it is sold.
Surgery and follow-up treatment needed to correct or improve a part of the body because of birth defects, accidents, injuries or medical conditions.
Health care services that help a person keep, get back or improve skills and functioning for daily living that have been lost or impaired because a person was sick, hurt or disabled. These services may include physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and psychiatric rehabilitation services in a variety of inpatient and/or outpatient settings.
Skilled Nursing Care
Services from licensed nurses in your own home or in a nursing home. Skilled care services are from technicians and therapists in your own home or in a nursing home.
Special Enrollment Period
A time outside of the Open Enrollment period during which you and your family have a right to sign up for health insurance coverage. In the Marketplace, you generally qualify for a special enrollment period of 60 days following certain life events that involve a change in family status (for example, marriage or birth of a child) or loss of other health coverage. If you don’t have a special enrollment period, you can’t buy insurance through the Marketplace until the next Open Enrollment period. Job-based plans generally allow special enrollment periods of 30 days.
A physician specialist focuses on a specific area of medicine or a group of patients to diagnose, manage, prevent or treat certain types of symptoms and conditions. A non-physician specialist is a provider who has more training in a specific area of health care.
Usual, Reasonable and Customary (URC)
The amount paid for a medical service in a geographic area based on what providers in the area usually charge for the same or similar medical service. The URC amount sometimes is used to determine the allowed amount.
Care for an illness, injury or condition serious enough that a reasonable person would seek care right away, but not so severe as to require emergency room care.
A program intended to improve and promote health and fitness that’s usually offered through the work place, although insurance plans can offer them directly to their enrollees. The program allows your employer or plan to offer you premium discounts, cash rewards, gym memberships, and other incentives to participate. Some examples of wellness programs include programs to help you stop smoking, diabetes management programs, weight loss programs, and preventative health screenings.