24 Health Insurance Terms Explained in Plain English

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Let’s be honest: Health insurance is confusing. Health insurance is a contract you buy that requires an insurance company to pay for some or all of your medical expenses. Some employers offer (heavily subsidized) insurance to their employees, some people buy their own plans, and the government provides insurance for older people as well as for low-income people and those with disabilities. Still, some people in the US go without insurance. But just having insurance doesn’t mean you get medical care for free.

To help you understand how it all works, here’s a list of the terms you need to know, explained in plain English.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Really, its full name is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and it was passed in early 2010 and fully implemented as of January 2014. It’s also known as Obamacare, after the President who shepherded it and signed it into law.

People in the United States aren’t guaranteed to get health insurance. They have to get coverage from their employer, buy it themselves, qualify for a government program, or go without. The ACA sought to get more people covered by insurance and protect people from going bankrupt from medical bills. It did that in a few ways: It said young people could stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, it expanded the eligibility requirements for Medicaid, and it banned insurance companies from discriminating against people for having preexisting conditions [see “preexisting conditions”], which range from having given birth via C-section to having diabetes and other very basic, common things.”

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