There are five main kinds of health insurance plans, with indemnity plans at one end, and HMOs (health maintenance organization) at the other end of the spectrum. POS (point-of-service plans) and PPOs (preferred provider organizations) include a combination of features from indemnity plans and HMOs; however, they are usually seen as managed care plans.

In 2003, the US Congress introduced a new option, the HSA (Health Savings Account), which is a combination of HMO/PPO/Indemnity and a savings account which has tax-benefits.Understanding the differences between different kinds of plans is useful and extremely important when you are considering choosing one for yourself, your family, or employees. However, as plans evolve and add more details and take others away, there is more overlap and their distinctions become progressively blurred. The majority of fee-for-service plans (indemnity plans) use managed care techniques to control costs and to ensure there are enough resources to pay for appropriate care. Similarly, many managed care plans have adopted fee-for-service characteristics.
What are managed care plans?
Managed care plans are health insurance plans that have a contract with health care providers and medical facilities to provide medical care at special prices (lower costs). These providers form the plan’s network. The network will have rules, which stipulate how much of the care the plan will pay for.

Restrictive plans usually cost the “insured” less, while flexible ones are more expensive. HMOs will typically only pay for care if you use one of the providers in their network. A primary care doctor (general practitioner) coordinates most of the patient’s care. PPOs will cover more of the costs if the insured selects a provider within their network, but will also pay up some of the money for providers outside the network. POS plans allow the insured to choose between an HMO or a PPO each time care is required.
What are Indemnity Plans?
The insured can choose any doctor he/she wants. The doctor, hospital or the insured submits a claim for reimbursement to the health insurance company.

It is important to remember that, like any insurance plan, the insured will only be reimbursed according to what is listed and mentioned in the Benefit Summary. It is important to read the Summary carefully and understand all that is printed, even the “small print”. Most indemnity plans claim to cover “the vast majority of procedures”.

Coinsurance – while indemnity plans do not pay for all of the medical and surgical services, they typically pay for at least 80% of the customary and usual costs, while the insured is liable for the remaining 20 or so percent. The insured is also liable for any excess charges, e.g. if the provider charges more than what is considered as a reasonable and customary fee. Look at the example below:

Example of Coinsurance and excess charges

You see a doctor for “diabetes care”
The insurer deems that the customary fee for this type of diabetes care is $200.
The insurance company pays $160 (80%), while the insured (you) is expected to pay for the rest ($40).
However, if the provider bills you for $250, you will have to pay for those extra $50.
So, you will have to pay $40 + $50 = $90.

The 8/20 level coinsurance ratio is only a typical example given in this article. Some plans may be 75/25 or 70/30.

Deductibles – the amount of covered expenses the insured has to pay before the reimbursement system kicks in and starts covering medical costs. The deductible total may range from $100 to $300 per person annually, or from $500 to $1,000 annually for a whole family.

Out-of-pocket maximum – as soon as the insured’s covered expenses reach a certain amount during a 12-month period, the plan will cover all usual and customary fees from then on. The insured has to remember that any charges above what are considered as usual and customary by the insurance company will have to be paid for by the insured.

Lifetime limit – if the insured has a lifetime limit of $2 million, it means the insurance company will only cover costs up to $2 million during that person’s lifetime. Ideally, one should have a lifetime limit of at least $2 million.