Health insurance does more than offer financial benefits to some of life's most serious physical conditions. It also offers peace of mind. While not all people choose to carry health insurance, those who do are better able to find the type of treatment they need when a serious condition strikes. The most common benefits of health insurance are doctor visits, hospitalization, prescription drugs and preventive care. Vision and mental health benefits may also be offered.
Visiting the doctor is often the cheapest aspect of health care coverage, but that does not mean it is inexpensive. The average doctor visit can run $75 or more for a basic exam. Blood tests, cultures, immunizations and other procedures can quickly triple or quadruple that cost. With health insurance, many pay only a nominal co-pay for the visit, usually between $10 and $30.
Hospitalization is where the benefits of having health insurance can clearly be seen. The average daily cost of a non-critical stay at the hospital is more than $1,100 a day throughout the United States. Health insurance benefits typically pay 80 percent to 90 percent of the costs after the deductible has been reached. Further, there is usually an annual maximum out-of-pocket amount of several thousand dollars. Once that is reached, the insurance pays 100 percent of the costs.
As medical research and new technologies find more cures and ways to cope with more ailments, the demand for prescription drugs continues to grow. These drugs can often be quite expensive, especially if generics are not available. Prescription drug coverage can substantially reduce the amount a patient pays for these medications, usually with no deductible required. The patient's share of the cost may be in the form of a co-pay or certain percentage of the entire cost.
As more of a focus is put on preventive care, insurance companies are responding accordingly, offering more benefits in that area. This may include coverage for annual physicals and tests, as well as covering the expenses for some family-planning methods. Insurance companies see such benefits as an investment, possibly helping to avoid larger costs in the future.
In some cases, vision benefits may be included as part of a standard policy offered by an employer. In other cases, this may be part of a premium coverage package. Vision benefits may pay for a doctor's exam, eyeglasses, contact lenses or all of these things. Some packages may offer full coverage and some may only pay a percentage. Some coverages could even offer permanent vision correction benefits, such as LASIK surgery.
In the past, mental health coverage was a rarity in a standard medical package. Now, it is included much more often. The push for parity, meaning coverage that's as good for mental health as it is for physical health, has become a common theme among some special interest groups (see Resources below). Mental health coverage often pays for counseling sessions with psychologists and visits with a psychiatrist.