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The Future of Obamacare: Repeal, Repair, or Replace?

Introduction to the Teach-Out / Lesson 2 of 2

Key Terms in Health Care Reform

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The conversation around healthcare coverage can seem quite intimidating for the average citizen, because it often requires the use of confusing jargon. Over the course of this Teach-Out, we hope to demystify some of these terms and help you to establish what they mean for you and your coverage. We'll be referring to many of these terms throughout the following segments, and as such, we've identified several key terms for you to become familiar with.

A great resource for understanding the complexities of healthcare reform is the Kaiser Family Foundation's website. Below, we have excerpted these key terms from their Health Reform Glossary



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.




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.



Cost Shifting

Increasing revenues from some payers to offset losses or lower reimbursement from other payers, such as government payers and the uninsured.




A feature of health plans where beneficiaries are required to pay a portion of the costs of their care. Examples of costs include co-payments, coinsurance and annual deductibles. 



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.


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.


Entitlement Program

Federal programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, for which people who meet eligibility criteria have a federal right to benefits. Changes to eligibility criteria and benefits require legislation. The Federal government is required to spend the funds necessary to provide benefits for individuals in these programs, unlike discretionary programs for which spending is set by Congress through the appropriations process. Enrollment in these programs cannot be capped and neither states nor the federal government may establish waiting lists. 


Health Insurance Exchange/Connector

A purchasing arrangement through which insurers offer and smaller employers and individuals purchase health insurance. State, regional, or national exchanges could be established to set standards for what benefits would be covered, how much insurers could charge, and the rules insurers must follow in order to participate in the insurance market. Individuals and small employers would select their coverage within this organized arrangement. An example of this arrangement is the Commonwealth Connector, created in Massachusetts in 2006.


High-Deductible Health Plan

Health insurance plans that have higher deductibles (the amount of health care costs that must be paid for by the consumer before the insurance plan begins to pay for services), but lower premiums than traditional plans. Qualified high-deductible plans that may be combined with a health savings account must have a deductible of at least $1,150 for single coverage and $2,300 for family coverage in 2009. 


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.



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.



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.


Pre-existing Condition Exclusions

An illness or medical condition for which a person received a diagnosis or treatment within a specified period of time prior to becoming insured. Health care providers can exclude benefits for a defined period of time for the treatment of medical conditions that they determine to have existed within a specific period prior to the beginning of coverage.



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.


Public Plan Option

A proposal to create a new insurance plan administered and funded by federal or state government that would be offered along with private plans in a newly-created health insurance exchange.


Safety Net

Health care providers who deliver health care services to patients regardless of their ability to pay. These providers may consist of public hospital systems, community health centers, local health departments, and other providers who serve a disproportionate share of uninsured and low-income patients.


Single-Payer System

A health care system in which a single entity pays for health care services. This entity collects health care fees and pays for all health care costs, but is not involved in the delivery of health care.


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.




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.

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