Terms you should know

Health care is full of industry-speak. Without knowing the basics, it’s hard to understand how things work. Here are some key terms you should know as you navigate the world of health care.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The comprehensive federal health care reform law enacted in March 2010. Also known as “Obamacare” or “Health Care Reform.”

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Coinsurance - A percentage of the charges that you pay for covered services. For example, a 20 percent coinsurance for a $200 procedure means you pay just $40.

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The set amount you pay for covered services — for example, a $10 copay for an office visit.

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Cost share

The portion of charges for a service or prescription that you are responsible for paying, such as a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible payment.

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The amount you pay for covered services before the health plan issuer starts paying. Depending on your plan, you may pay copays or coinsurance for some services without having to reach your deductible.

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A spouse, child, or domestic partner who is covered under a policyholder or subscriber’s plan, depending on applicable law and the plan’s terms and conditions.

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Essential health benefits

A set of benefits in 10 categories of health care services.

For 2014 and 2015, each state defines its own essential health benefits, but health care coverage plans must include items and services from 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
  • Pediatric services, up to age 19, including oral and vision care

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Grandfathered plan

A health plan you were enrolled in when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law on March 23, 2010. The health plan must have been in existence on or before that date and meet certain requirements. Grandfathered plans are exempt from many of the changes required under the ACA.

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Health care

The prevention, treatment, and management of diseases and injuries, as well as the preservation of mental and physical health, through services offered by trained and licensed professionals (like doctors, dentists, and psychologists).

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Health Care Reform

A general term for the major health policy changes put in place by the federal Affordable Care Act and any state laws passed to put it in place.

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Health insurance (also referred to as “coverage” or “plan”)

A contract that requires your health insurance issuer to pay some or all of your health care costs in exchange for a premium you pay.

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Health Insurance Marketplaces (also known as Exchanges)

State- or federally run and regulated markets where you can shop, compare, and buy health care coverage. Link directly to your state’s Health Insurance Marketplace here.

State URL
District of Columbia

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Large employer

The 2015 definition of “large employer” for the SHOP, is an employer with 51 or more full-time equivalent employees. In 2016, the SHOP becomes available to employers with 51 to 100 employees so the definition of large employer will be 101 or more full-time equivalent employees.

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The Marketplace

A common nickname for the Health Insurance Marketplaces, also called “Exchanges.”

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Open enrollment period

A period of time each year when you can purchase or change health coverage. The 2015 federal open enrollment period is scheduled for November 15, 2014, through February 15, 2015.

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Out-of-pocket costs

Any amounts you pay for covered services, not including your monthly premiums.

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Out-of-pocket maximum

The maximum amount you’ll pay for covered services each year. For a small number of services, you may need to keep paying copays or coinsurance after reaching your out-of-pocket maximum.

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Pre-existing condition

A medical condition that a person has before being enrolled in a health plan.

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The amount you and/or your employer pay (usually each month) for health plan coverage.

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Preventive care

Health services provided to prevent diseases (or injuries) rather than curing them or treating their symptoms.

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A physician, health care professional, or health care facility that is licensed, certified, or accredited to provide health care services and supplies as required by state law.

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Small employer

An employer is considered a “small employer” eligible to purchase coverage in the SHOP if the employer has 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees. In 2016, an employer with 100 or fewer employees will be eligible to purchase coverage in the SHOP.

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Special enrollment period

A period of time outside of open enrollment when you can purchase or change health coverage. To be eligible for special enrollment you must have experienced a situation known as a “triggering event”, which is defined by ACA regulations.

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Summary of Benefits and Coverage

A plain-language summary of your benefits and coverage. In compliance with the ACA, every insurer must supply this document and a uniform glossary of common health terms to members and prospective members during open enrollment or upon request.

The SBC provides a brief summary of information such as the following:

  • Cost sharing for some common medical services such as office visits or lab tests
  • Deductibles and out-of-pocket limits
  • Services not covered by the plan

Kaiser Permanente members, you can request copies or more information from your region:


Call our Member Service Contact Center:

  • 1-800-464-4000 English
  • 1-800-777-1370 TTY for the hearing/speech impaired


Call Member Services:

  • 303-338-3800 Denver metro area
  • 1-800-632-9700 Northern Colorado
  • 1-888-681-7878 Southern Colorado
  • 303-338-3820 TTY (Denver metro area)
  • 1-800-521-4874 TTY (other areas)


Call Member Services:

  • 404-261-2590 Atlanta metro area
  • 1-888-865-5813 other areas
  • 1-800-255-0056 TTY for the hearing/speech impaired


Call our Customer Service Center:

  • 808-432-5955 (Oahu)
  • 1-800-966-5955 (Neighbor Islands)
  • 1-877-447-5990 TTY for the hearing/speech impaired

Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C.

Call Member Services:

  • 301-468-6000 D.C. metro area
  • 1-800-777-7902 other areas
  • 301-879-6380 TTY for the hearing/speech impaired

Oregon and Washington

Call Membership Services:

  • 503-813-2000 Portland area
  • 1-800-813-2000 other areas
  • 1-800-735-2900 TTY (Oregon)
  • 1-800-833-6388 TTY (Washington)

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