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Common Insurance Terms

Allowed Amount
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.

Annual Deductible Combined
Usually in Health Savings Account (HSA) eligible plans, the total amount that family members on a plan must pay out-of-pocket for health care or prescription drugs before the health plan begins to pay.

Annual Limit
A cap on the benefits your insurance company will pay in a year while you're enrolled in a particular health insurance plan. These caps are sometimes placed on particular services such as prescriptions or hospitalizations. Annual limits may be placed on the dollar amount of covered services or on the number of visits that will be covered for a particular service. After an annual limit is reached, you must pay all associated health care costs for the rest of the year.

Benefit Year
A year of benefits coverage under an individual health insurance plan. The benefit year for plans bought inside or outside the Marketplace begins January 1 of each year and ends December 31 of the same year. Your coverage ends December 31 even if your coverage started after January 1. Any changes to benefits or rates to a health insurance plan are made at the beginning of the calendar year.

Benefits
The health care items or services covered under a health insurance plan. Covered benefits and excluded services are defined in the health insurance plan's coverage documents. In Medicaid or CHIP, covered benefits and excluded services are defined in state program rules.

Claim
A request for payment that you or your health care provider submits to your health insurer when you get items or services you think are covered.

Coinsurance
Your share of the costs of a covered health care service, calculated as a percentage (for example, 20%) of the allowed amount for the service. You pay coinsurance after you’ve met your deductible. For example, if the health insurance plan’s allowed amount for an office visit is $100 and you’ve met your deductible, your 20% coinsurance payment would be $20. The health insurance plan pays the rest.

Copayment
A fixed amount (for example, $15) you pay for a covered health care service, usually when you get the service. The amount can vary by the type of covered health care service.

Deductible
The amount you owe for covered health care services before your health insurance plan begins to pay. For example, if your deductible is $1,000, your plan won’t pay anything until you’ve paid $1,000 for covered services. Some plans pay for certain health care services before you’ve met your deductible.
Dependent
A child or other individual for whom a parent, relative, or other person may claim a personal exemption tax deduction. Under the Affordable Care Act, individuals may be able to claim a premium tax credit to  help cover the cost of coverage for themselves and their dependents.

Dependent Coverage
Insurance coverage for family members of the policyholder, such as spouses, children, or partners.

Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
An arrangement you set up through your employer to pay for many of your out-of-pocket medical expenses with tax-free dollars. These expenses include insurance copayments and deductibles, and qualified prescription drugs, insulin and medical devices. You decide how much of your pre-tax wages you want taken out of your paycheck and put into an FSA. You don’t have to pay taxes on this money. Your employer’s plan sets a limit on the amount you can put into an FSA each year. There is no carry-over of FSA funds. This means that FSA funds you don’t spend by the end of the plan
year can’t be used for expenses in the next year. An exception is if your employer’s FSA plan permits you to use unused FSA funds for expenses incurred during a grace period of up to 2.5 months after the end of the FSA plan year.

(Note: Flexible Spending Accounts are sometimes called Flexible Spending Arrangements.)

Health Savings Account (HSA)
A medical savings account available to taxpayers who are enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan. The funds contributed to the account aren't subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. Funds must be used to pay for qualified medical expenses. Unlike a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), funds roll over year to year if you don't spend them.

Health Insurance
A contract that requires your health insurer to pay some or all of your health care costs in exchange for a premium.

Medically Necessary
Health care services or supplies needed to diagnose or treat an illness, injury, condition, disease or its symptoms and that meet accepted standards of medicine.
Network
The facilities, providers and suppliers your health insurer or plan has contracted with to provide health care services.

Pre-Existing Condition
A health problem you had before the date that new health coverage starts.

Premium
The amount that must be paid for your health insurance or plan. You and/or your employer usually pay it monthly, quarterly or yearly.

Prior Authorization
Approval from a health plan that may be required before you get a service or fill a prescription in order for the service or prescription to be covered by your plan.

Preferred Provider
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.

Primary Care Physician
A physician (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.

Plan Year
A 12-month period of benefits coverage under a group health plan. This 12-month period may not be the same as the calendar year. To find out when your plan year begins, you can check your plan documents or ask your employer.

(Note: For individual health insurance policies this 12-month period is called a “policy year”).

Policy Year
A 12-month period of benefits coverage under an individual health insurance plan. This 12-month period may not be the same as the calendar year. To find out when your policy year begins, you can check your policy documents or contact your insurer.

(Note: In group health plans, this 12-month period is called a “plan year”).

Preauthorization
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.

Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)
A type of health plan that contracts with medical providers, such as hospitals and doctors, to create a network of participating providers. You pay less if you use providers that belong to the plan’s network.
You can use doctors, hospitals, and providers outside of the network for an additional cost.

Primary Care Provider
A physician (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.

Referral
A written order from your primary care doctor for you to see a specialist or get certain medical services. In many Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), you need to get a referral before you can get medical care from anyone except your primary care doctor. If you don’t get a referral first, the plan may not pay for the services.

Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC)
An easy-to-read summary that lets you make apples-to-apples comparisons of costs and coverage between health plans. You can compare options based on price, benefits, and other features that may be important to you. You'll get the "Summary of Benefits and Coverage" (SBC) when you shop for coverage on your own or through your job, renew or change coverage, or request an SBC from the health insurance company.