In the United States, access to financial coverage for healthcare expenses means choosing and selecting a medical coverage plan from the private medical insurance industry. The exceptions to this are those people that qualify for government provided healthcare coverage from programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Most Americans that purchase private medical insurance coverage do so through choosing from among two or more medical coverage plan options offered as an employee benefit from their employers. Others that do not have this benefit at work have to purchase medical insurance on the individual market. With the recent passage of healthcare reform by the United States Congress, the majority of Americans will be required to purchase a minimum level of coverage starting in 2014, either through insurance exchanges setup by the states or through their employee benefits packages.
The trend in the type of coverage offered through employer provided plans and also on the individual market for the last twenty years can be generally categorized as managed care plans. In these plans, the idea is for the plan to negotiate with medical service providers like doctors and hospitals to keep fees for medical services to a reasonable amount. Members of these plans agree to choose healthcare providers from within a network of providers approved by the plan. In summary, members of these plans give up flexibility of choice in exchange for lower out of pocket costs when accessing medical services.
Recently, another type of medical coverage option has emerged in the options offered in employer plans and these are Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, coupled with high deductible health insurance plans. In this type of coverage option, an individual opens a tax-advantaged savings account, the HSA, in order to save money to pay directly for healthcare expenses. The high deductible health insurance plan results in a lower monthly premium and provided financial protection for those medical situations like major accidents or serious illnesses that can result in large medical bills.
The HSA/HDHP option offers an individual seeking more control over their choice of medical service providers an alternative to the restrictions inherent in a managed care plan. People who value and require flexibility of choice when deciding what doctor to visit or hospital to use might want to look into the specifics of the HSA/HDHP alternative, comparing it to their options for a managed care plan.