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Health Insurance Lingo

Health insurance lingo doesn’t have to be a mystery. Here are some terms to help you get more savvy about health care:

  • Premium: The amount the policy-holder or his sponsor (e.g. an employer) pays to the health plan each month to purchase health coverage.
  • Deductible: The amount that the insured must pay before the health insurer pays its share. For example, a policy-holder might have to pay a $500 deductible per year, before any of their health care is covered by the health insurer. It may take several doctor’s visits or prescription refills before the insured person reaches the deductible and the insurance company starts to pay for care.
  • Co-payment: The amount that the insured person must pay out of pocket before the health insurer pays for a particular visit or service. For example, an insured person might pay a $45 co-payment for a doctor’s visit, or to obtain a prescription. A co-payment must be paid each time a particular service is obtained.
  • Coinsurance: Instead of, or in addition to, paying a fixed amount up front (a co-payment), the co-insurance is a percentage of the total cost that insured person may also pay. For example, the member might have to pay 20% of the cost of a surgery over and above a co-payment, while the insurance company pays the other 80%. If there is an upper limit on coinsurance, the policy-holder could end up owing very little, or a great deal, depending on the actual costs of the services they obtain.
  • Exclusions: Not all services are covered. The insured person is generally expected to pay the full cost of non-covered services out of their own pocket.
  • Coverage limits: Some health insurance policies only pay for health care up to a certain dollar amount. The insured person may be expected to pay any charges in excess of the health plan’s maximum payment for a specific service. In addition, some insurance company schemes have annual or lifetime coverage maximums. In these cases, the health plan will stop payment when they reach the benefit maximum, and the policy-holder must pay all remaining costs.
  • Out-of-pocket maximums: Similar to coverage limits, except that in this case, the insured person’s payment obligation ends when they reach the out-of-pocket maximum, and the health company pays all further covered costs. Out-of-pocket maximums can be limited to a specific benefit category (such as prescription drugs) or can apply to all coverage provided during a specific benefit year.
  • Capitation: An amount paid by an insurer to a health care provider, for which the provider agrees to treat all members of the insurer.
  • In-Network Provider: (U.S. term) A health care provider on a list of providers preselected by the insurer. The insurer will offer discounted coinsurance or co-payments, or additional benefits, to a plan member to see an in-network provider. Generally, providers in network are providers who have a contract with the insurer to accept rates further discounted from the “usual and customary” charges the insurer pays to out-of-network providers.
  • Prior Authorization: A certification or authorization that an insurer provides prior to medical service occurring. Obtaining an authorization means that the insurer is obligated to pay for the service, assuming it matches what was authorized. Many smaller, routine services do not require authorization.