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Any discussion of health reform is often full of technical terms. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has a great glossary. We have copied some of the key terms here for you to reference.


Access: The ability to obtain needed medical care. Access to care is often affected by the availability of insurance, the cost of the care, and the geographic location of providers.


Benefit Package: The set of services, such as physician visits, hospitalizations, prescription drugs, that are covered by an insurance policy or health plan. The benefit package will specify any cost-sharing requirements for services, limits on particular services, and annual or lifetime spending limits.

Basic Health Program: States will have the option to implement a Basic Health Program (BHP) under health reform that gives states 95% of what the federal government would have spent on subsidies for adults between 133% and 200% of the federal poverty level and legal resident immigrants with incomes below 133% who have been in the U.S. for fewer than five years (and therefore do not qualify for Medicaid).


Community Rating: A method for setting premium rates for health insurance plans under which all policy holders are charged the same premium for the same coverage. "Modified community rating" generally refers to a rating method under which health insuring organizations are permitted to vary premiums based on specified demographic characteristics (e.g. age, gender, location), but cannot vary premiums based on the health status or claims history of policy holders.

Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans (CO-OP): Qualified non-profit, customer-governed, private health insurers that will offer qualified health plans in the exchanges. Co-payment: A fixed dollar amount paid by an individual at the time of receiving a covered health care service from a participating provider. The required fee varies by the service provided and by the health plan.


Deductible: A feature of health plans in which consumers are responsible for health care costs up to a specified dollar amount. After the deductible has been paid, the health insurance plan begins to pay for health care services.

Dual Eligibles: A term used to describe an individual who is eligible for Medicare and for some level of Medicaid benefits. Most dual eligibles qualify for full Medicaid benefits including nursing home services, and Medicaid pays their Medicare premiums and cost sharing. For other duals Medicaid provides the "Medicare Savings Programs" through which enrollees receive assistance with Medicare premiums, deductibles, and other cost sharing requirements.


Employer Health Care Tax Credit: An incentive mechanism designed to encourage employers, usually small employers, to offer health insurance to their employees. The tax credit enables employers to deduct an amount, usually a percentage of the contribution they make toward their employees' premiums, from the federal taxes they owe. These tax credits are typically refundable so they are available to non-profit organizations that do not pay federal taxes.

Employer Mandate: An approach that would require all employers, or at least all employers meeting size or revenue thresholds, to offer health benefits that meet a defined standard, and pay a set portion of the cost of those benefits on behalf of their employees.

Employer-Sponsored Insurance: Insurance coverage provided to employees, and, in some cases, their spouses and children, through an employer.

Essential Health Benefits: A package of benefits set by the Secretary of Health and Human Services that insurers will be required to offer under the exchanges.


Federal Poverty Level (FPL): The federal government’s working definition of poverty that is used as the reference point to determine the number of people with income below poverty and the income standard for eligibility for public programs. The federal government uses two different definitions of poverty. The U.S. Census poverty threshold is used as the basis for official poverty population statistics, such as the percentage of people living in poverty. The poverty guidelines, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), are used to determine eligibility for public programs and subsidies. For 2008, the Census weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four was $22,025 and HHS poverty guideline was $21,200.

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC): Safety net providers such as community health clinics and public housing centers that provide health services regardless of the ability to pay and are funded by the federal government.

Fee-for-Service: A traditional method of paying for medical services under which doctors and hospitals are paid for each service they provide. Bills are either paid by the patient, who then submits them to the insurance company, or are submitted by the provider to the patient's insurance carrier for reimbursement.



High-Risk Pool: State programs designed to provide health insurance to residents who are considered medically uninsurable and are unable to buy coverage in the individual market.


Individual Insurance Market: The market where individuals who do not have group (usually employer-based) coverage purchase private health insurance. This market is also referred to as the non-group market.

Individual Mandate: A requirement that all individuals obtain health insurance. A mandate could apply to the entire population, just to children, and/or could exempt specified individuals. Massachusetts was the first state to impose an individual mandate that all adults have health insurance.




Lifetime Benefit Maximum: A cap on the amount of money insurers will pay toward the cost of health care services over the lifetime of the insurance policy.


Managed Care: A health delivery system that seeks to control access to and utilization of health care services both to limit health care costs and to improve the quality of the care provided. Managed care arrangements typically rely on primary care physicians to act as "gatekeepers" and manage the care their patients receive.

Medicaid: Enacted in 1965 under Title XIX of the Social Security Act, Medicaid is a federal entitlement program that provides health and long-term care coverage to certain categories of low-income Americans. States design their own Medicaid programs within broad federal guidelines. Medicaid plays a key role in the U.S. health care system, filling large gaps in the health insurance system, financing long-term care coverage, and helping to sustain the safety-net providers that serve the uninsured. Learn more with this primer on Medicaid.

Medicare: Enacted in 1965 under Title XVII of the Social Security Act, Medicare is a federal entitlement program that provides health insurance coverage to 45 million people, including people age 65 and older, and younger people with permanent disabilities, end-state renal disease, and Lou Gehrig's disease. Learn more with this primer on Medicare.



Out-of-Pocket Costs: Health care costs, such as deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance that are not covered by insurance. Out-of-pocket costs do not include premium costs.

Out-of-Pocket Maximum: A yearly cap on the amount of money individuals are required to pay out-of-pocket for health care costs, excluding the premium cost.


Premium: The amount paid, often on a monthly basis, for health insurance. The cost of the premium may be shared between employers or government purchasers and individuals.

Premium Subsidies: A fixed amount of money or a designated percentage of the premium cost that is provided to help people purchase health coverage. Premium subsidies are usually provided on a sliding scale based on an individual’s or family’s income.




Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP): State health insurance exchanges that will be open to small businesses up to 100 employees.


Tax Credit: A tax credit is an amount that a person/family can subtract from the amount of income tax that they owe. If a tax credit is refundable, the taxpayer can receive a payment from the government to the extent that the amount of the credit is greater than the amount of tax they would otherwise owe.


Underinsured: People who have health insurance but who face out-of-pocket health care costs or limits on benefits that may affect their ability to access or pay for health care services.

Universal Coverage: A system that provides health coverage to all Americans. A mechanism for achieving universal coverage (or near-universal coverage) under several current health reform proposals is the individual mandate. Single payer proposals would also provide universal coverage.