When you are choosing your health insurance plan, the last thing you need is to be faced by words or terms you don’t fully understand. We’ve put this guide together to help clear things up a bit. (Your plan’s Summary of Benefits and Coverage will also give you an explanation of how the terms apply.)
Here is a real-life example using some of the terms.
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. (See Balance Billing.)
Many health insurance plans place dollar limits upon the claims the insurer will pay over the course of a plan year. PPACA prohibits annual limits for essential benefits for plan years beginning after Sept. 23, 2010.
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.
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 must pay out-of-pocket for health care for services covered by your health insurance or plan 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.
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.
Health care services that your health insurance or plan doesn’t pay for or cover.
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.
A contract that requires your health insurer to pay some or all of your health care costs in exchange for a premium.
Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)
Prepaid health plans in which you pay a monthly premium and the HMO covers your doctor's visits, hospital stays, emergency care, surgery, preventive care, checkups, lab tests, X-rays, and therapy. You must choose a primary care physician who coordinates all of your care and makes referrals to any specialists you might need. In an HMO, you must use the doctors, hospitals and clinics that participate in your plan's network.
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.
Hospital Outpatient Care
Care in a hospital that usually doesn’t require an overnight stay.
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.
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.
An organized way to manage costs, use, and quality of the health care system. The major types of managed care plans are health maintenance organizations (HMOs), point-of-service (POS) plans and preferred provider organizations (PPO).
A joint federal-state health insurance program that is run by the states and covers certain low-income people (especially children and pregnant women), and disabled people.
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.
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.
Health care services a licensed medical physician (M.D. – Medical Doctor or D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) provides or coordinates.
A benefit your employer, union or other group sponsor provides to you to pay for your health care services.
Point-of-Service Plan (POS)
A type of managed care plan combining features of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs), in which individuals decide whether to go to a network provider and pay a flat dollar copayment (say $10 for a doctor's visit), or to an out-of-network provider and pay a deductible and/or coinsurance charge.
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.
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)
A network of health care providers with which a health insurer has negotiated contracts for its insured population to receive health services at discounted costs. Health care decisions generally remain with the patient as he she selects providers and determines his or her own need for services. Patients have financial incentives to select providers within the PPO network.
The amount that must be paid for your health insurance or plan. You and/or your employer usually pay it monthly, quarterly or yearly.
Drugs and medications that by law require a prescription.
Prescription Drug Coverage
Health insurance or plan that helps pay for prescription drugs and medications.
Primary Care Physician
A doctor (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 doctor (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 doctor (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.
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.
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.
Any payer of health care services other than you. This can be an insurance company, an HMO, a PPO, or the federal government.
UCR (Usual, Customary, Reasonable)
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 UCR 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.