Affordable Care Act Glossary


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Accountable Care Organization: A group of health care providers who give coordinated care, chronic disease management, and thereby improve the quality of care patients get. The organization's payment is tied to achieving health care quality goals and outcomes that result in cost savings.


Advanced Premium Tax Credit:  The Affordable Care Act provides a new tax credit to help you afford health coverage purchased through the Marketplace. Advance payments of the tax credit can be used right away to lower your monthly premium costs. If you qualify, you may choose how much advance credit payments to apply to your premiums each month, up to a maximum amount. If the amount of advance credit payments you get for the year is less than the tax credit you're due, you'll get the difference as a refundable credit when you file your federal income tax return. If your advance payments for the year are more than the amount of your credit, you must repay the excess advance payments with your tax return. Also called premium tax credit.


Affordable Care Act (ACA): The comprehensive health care reform law enacted in March 2010. The law was enacted in two parts: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010 and was amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act on March 30, 2010. The name “Affordable Care Act” is used to refer to the final, amended version of the law.


Broker:  An agent or broker is a person or business who can help you apply for help paying for coverage and enroll in a Qualified Health Plan (QHP) through the Marketplace. They can make specific recommendations about which plan you should enroll in. They’re also licensed and regulated by states and typically get payments, or commissions, from health insurers for enrolling a consumer into an issuer's plans. Some brokers may only be able to sell plans from specific health insurers.


Certified Application Counselor (CAC):  An individual (affiliated with a designated organization) who is trained and able to help consumers, small businesses, and their employees as they look for health coverage options through the Marketplace, including helping them complete eligibility and enrollment forms. Their services are free to consumers.


Co-Insurance:  Your share of the costs of a covered health care service, calculated as a percent (for example, 20%) of the allowed amount for the service. You pay coinsurance plus any deductibles you owe. For example, if the health insurance or plan’s allowed amount for an office visit is $100 and you’ve met your deductible, your coinsurance payment of 20% would be $20. The health insurance or plan pays the rest of the allowed amount.


Creditable Coverage:  Health insurance coverage under any of the following: a group health plan; individual health insurance; student health insurance; Medicare; Medicaid; CHAMPUS and TRICARE; the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program; Indian Health Service; the Peace Corps; Public Health Plan (any plan established or maintained by a State, the U.S. government, a foreign country); Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or a state health insurance high risk pool. If you have prior creditable coverage, it will reduce the length of a pre-existing condition exclusion period under new job-based coverage


Deductible:  The amount you owe for health care services your health insurance or plan covers before your health insurance or plan begins to pay. For example, if your deductible is $1,000, your plan won’t pay anything until you’ve met your $1,000 deductible for covered health care services subject to the deductible. The deductible may not apply to all services.


Employer Shared Responsibility Payment:  The Affordable Care Act requires certain employers with at least 50 full-time employees (or equivalents) to offer health insurance coverage to its full-time employees (and their dependents) that meets certain minimum standards set by the Affordable Care Act or to make a tax payment called the ESRP.


Essential Health Benefits:  A set of health care service categories that must be covered by certain plans, starting in 2014.

The Affordable Care Act ensures health plans offered in the individual and small group markets, both inside and outside of the Health Insurance Marketplace, offer a comprehensive package of items and services, known as essential health benefits. Essential health benefits must include items and services within at least the following 10 categories: ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

Insurance policies must cover these benefits in order to be certified and offered in the Health Insurance Marketplace, and all Medicaid state plans must cover these services by 2014.


Exchange:  See now Health Insurance Market Place. 


Exclusive Provider Organization(EPO):  A managed care plan where services are covered only if you go to doctors, specialists, or hospitals in the plan’s network (except in an emergency).


Federal Poverty Level:  A measure of income level issued annually by the Department of Health and Human Services. Federal poverty levels are used to determine your eligibility for certain programs and benefits.

(The amounts below are based on 2013 numbers and are likely to be slightly higher in 2014.)



  • $11,490 to $45,960 for individuals

  • $15,510 to $62,040 for a family of 2

  • $19,530 to $78,120 for a family of 3

  • $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of 4

  • $27,570 to $110,280 for a family of 5

  • $31,590 to $126,360 for a family of 6

  • $35,610 to $142,440 for a family of 7

  • $39,630 to $158,520 for a family of 8


Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC):  Federally funded nonprofit health centers or clinics that serve medically underserved areas and populations. Federally qualified health centers provide primary care services regardless of your ability to pay. Services are provided on a sliding scale fee based on your ability to pay.


Guaranteed Issue:  A requirement that health plans must permit you to enroll regardless of health status, age, gender, or other factors that might predict the use of health services. Except in some states, guaranteed issue doesn't limit how much you can be charged if you enroll.


Health Insurance Marketplace:  A resource where individuals, families, and small businesses can learn about their health coverage options; compare health insurance plans based on costs, benefits, and other important features; choose a plan; and enroll in coverage. The Marketplace also provides information on programs that help people with low to moderate income and resources pay for coverage. This includes ways to save on the monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs of coverage available through the Marketplace, and information about other programs, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Marketplace encourages competition among private health plans, and is accessible through websites, call centers, and in-person assistance. In some states, the Marketplace is run by the state. In others it is run by the federal government. Formerly known as the Exchange.


Health Plan Categories:  Plans in the Marketplace are primarily separated into 4 health plan categories — Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum — based on the percentage the plan pays of the average overall cost of providing essential health benefits to members. The plan category you choose affects the total amount you'll likely spend for essential health benefits during the year. The percentages the plans will spend, on average, are 60% (Bronze), 70% (Silver), 80% (Gold), and 90% (Platinum). This isn't the same as coinsurance, in which you pay a specific percentage of the cost of a specific service.


Health Status:  Refers to your medical conditions (both physical and mental health), claims experience, receipt of health care, medical history, genetic information, evidence of insurability, and disability.


In-Person Assistance Personnel Program:  Individual or organizations that are trained and able to provide help to consumers, small businesses, and their employees as they look for health coverage options through the Marketplace, including helping them complete eligibility and enrollment forms. These individuals and organizations are required to be unbiased. Their services are free to consumers.


Medicaid:  A state-administered health insurance program for low-income families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities, and in some states, other adults. The Federal government provides a portion of the funding for Medicaid and sets guidelines for the program. States also have choices in how they design their program, so Medicaid varies state by state and may have a different name in your state.


Medical Loss Ratio:  A basic financial measurement used in the Affordable Care Act to encourage health plans to provide value to enrollees. If an insurer uses 80 cents out of every premium dollar to pay its customers' medical claims and activities that improve the quality of care, the company has a medical loss ratio of 80%. A medical loss ratio of 80% indicates that the insurer is using the remaining 20 cents of each premium dollar to pay overhead expenses, such as marketing, profits, salaries, administrative costs, and agent commissions. The Affordable Care Act sets minimum medical loss ratios for different markets, as do some state laws.


Medical Underwriting:  A process used by insurance companies to try to figure out your health status when you're applying for health insurance coverage to determine whether to offer you coverage, at what price, and with what exclusions or limits.


Medicare:  A Federal health insurance program for people who are age 65 or older and certain younger people with disabilities. It also covers people with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD).


Minimum Essential Coverage:  The type of coverage an individual needs to have to meet the individual responsibility requirement under the Affordable Care Act. This includes individual market policies, job-based coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, TRICARE and certain other coverage.


Minimum Value:  A health plan meets this standard if it’s designed to pay at least 60% of the total cost of medical services for a standard population. Starting in 2014, individuals offered employer-sponsored coverage that provides minimum value and that’s affordable won’t be eligible for a premium tax credit.


Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI):  The figure used to determine eligibility for lower costs in the Marketplace and for Medicaid and CHIP. Generally, modified adjusted gross income is your adjusted gross income plus any tax-exempt Social Security, interest, or foreign income you have.


Navigator:  An individual or organization that's trained and able to help consumers, small businesses, and their employees as they look for health coverage options through the Marketplace, including completing eligibility and enrollment forms. These individuals and organizations are required to be unbiased. Their services are free to consumers.


Non-Preferred Provider:  A provider who doesn’t have a contract with your health insurer or plan to provide services to you. You’ll pay more to see a non-preferred provider. Check your policy to see if you can go to all providers who have contracted with your health insurance or plan, or if your health insurance or plan has a “tiered” network and you must pay extra to see some providers.


Open Enrollment Period:  The period of time during which individuals who are eligible to enroll in a Qualified Health Plan can enroll in a plan in the Marketplace. For 2014, the Open Enrollment Period is October 1, 2013–March 31, 2014. For 2015 and later years, the Open Enrollment Period is October 15 to December 7 of the previous year. Individuals may also qualify for Special Enrollment Periods outside of Open Enrollment if they experience certain events. See Special Enrollment Period and Qualifying Life Event

You can submit an application for health coverage outside of the Marketplace, or apply for Medicaid or CHIP, at any time of the year.


Out-of-Pocket Costs:  Your expenses for medical care that aren't reimbursed by insurance. Out-of-pocket costs include deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments for covered services plus all costs for services that aren't covered.


Payment Bundling:  A payment structure in which different health care providers who are treating you for the same or related conditions are paid an overall sum for taking care of your condition rather than being paid for each individual treatment, test, or procedure. In doing so, providers are rewarded for coordinating care, preventing complications and errors, and reducing unnecessary or duplicative tests and treatments.


Penalty:  Starting January 1, 2014, if someone doesn't have a health plan that qualifies as minimum essential coverage, he or she may have to pay a fee that increases every year: from 1% of income (or $95 per adult, whichever is higher) in 2014 to 2.5% of income (or $695 per adult) in 2016. The fee for children is half the adult amount. The fee is paid on the 2014 federal income tax form, which is completed in 2015. People with very low incomes and others may be eligible for waivers.  See also, Fee.


Premium Tax Credit:  The Affordable Care Act provides a new tax credit to help you afford health coverage purchased through the Marketplace. Advance payments of the tax credit can be used right away to lower your monthly premium costs. If you qualify, you may choose how much advance credit payments to apply to your premiums each month, up to a maximum amount. If the amount of advance credit payments you get for the year is less than the tax credit you're due, you’ll get the difference as a refundable credit when you file your federal income tax return. If your advance payments for the year are more than the amount of your credit, you must repay the excess advance payments with your tax return.


Qualified Health Plan:  Under the Affordable Care Act, starting in 2014, an insurance plan that is certified by the Health Insurance Marketplace, provides essential health benefits, follows established limits on cost-sharing (like deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket maximum amounts), and meets other requirements. A qualified health plan will have a certification by each Marketplace in which it is sold.


Qualifying Life Event:  A change in your life that can make you eligible for a Special Enrollment Period to enroll in health coverage. Examples of qualifying life events are moving to a new state, certain changes in your income, and changes in your family size (for example, if you marry, divorce, or have a baby).


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.


Reinsurance:  A reimbursement system that protects insurers from very high claims. It usually involves a third party paying part of an insurance company’s claims once they pass a certain amount. Reinsurance is a way to stabilize an insurance market and make coverage more available and affordable.


Rescission:  The retroactive cancellation of a health insurance policy. Insurance companies will sometimes retroactively cancel your entire policy if you made a mistake on your initial application when you buy an individual market insurance policy. Under the Affordable Care Act, rescission is illegal except in cases of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of material fact as prohibited by the terms of the plan or coverage.


Rider (Exclusionary Rider):  A rider is an amendment to an insurance policy. Some riders will add coverage (for example, if you buy a maternity rider to add coverage for pregnancy to your policy.) In most states today, an exclusionary rider is an amendment, permitted in individual health insurance policies that permanently excludes coverage for a health condition, body part, or body system. Starting in September 2010, under the Affordable Care Act, exclusionary riders cannot be applied to coverage for children. Starting in 2014, no exclusionary riders will be permitted in any health insurance.


Self-Insured Plan:  Type of plan usually present in larger companies where the employer itself collects premiums from enrollees and takes on the responsibility of paying employees’ and dependents’ medical claims. These employers can contract for insurance services such as enrollment, claims processing, and provider networks with a third party administrator, or they can be self-administered.


Social Security:  A system that distributes financial benefits to retired or disabled people, their spouses, and their dependent children based on their reported earnings. While you work, you may pay taxes into the Social Security system. When you retire or become disabled, you, your spouse, and your dependent children may get monthly benefits that are based on your reported earnings. Your survivors may be able to collect Social Security benefits if you die.


Special Enrollment Period:  A time outside of the open enrollment period during which you and your family have a right to sign up for job-based health coverage. Job-based plans must provide a special enrollment period of 30 days following certain life events that involve a change in family status (for example, marriage or birth of a child) or loss of other job-based health coverage.


State Continuation Coverage:  A state-based requirement similar to COBRA that applies to group health insurance policies of employers with fewer than 20 employees. In some states, state continuation coverage rules also apply to larger group insurance policies and add to COBRA protections. For example, in some states, if you're leaving a job-based plan, you must be allowed to continue your coverage until you reach the age of Medicare eligibility.


Subsidized Coverage:  Health coverage that's obtained through financial assistance from programs to help people with low and middle incomes.


Summary of Benefits and Coverage:  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.


Supplemental Security Income (SSI):  A monthly benefit paid by Social Security to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or 65 or older. SSI benefits aren't the same as Social Security retirement or disability benefits.


Tricare:  A health care program for active-duty and retired uniformed services members and their families.


Total Cost Estimate:  The total amount you may have to pay for health plan coverage, which is estimated before you actually have the coverage and have health expenses under the coverage.


Value-Based Purchasing:  Linking provider payments to improved performance by health care providers. This form of payment holds health care providers accountable for both the cost and quality of care they provide. It attempts to reduce inappropriate care and to identify and reward the best-performing providers.


Wellness Programs:  A program intended to improve and promote health and fitness that's usually offered through the work place, although insurance plans can offer them directly to their enrollees. The program allows your employer or plan to offer you premium discounts, cash rewards, gym memberships, and other incentives to participate. Some examples of wellness programs include programs to help you stop smoking, diabetes management programs, weight loss programs, and preventative health screenings.


These definitions taken from, and the full glossary of terms available at, www.healthcare.gov.



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