Understanding health care terms

Uniform glossary of health coverage and medical terms.

Reading about medical insurance can sometimes get technical and confusing. You can find commonly used health care terms in this glossary that will come in handy when looking for treatment and coverage options.

Please note:

  • The definition given is the general meaning, and the word may have other definitions that aren’t listed.
  • If a definition is different here than in your plan, your plan definition takes precedence.
  • A – D
  • E – H
  • I – M
  • N – Q
  • R – T
  • U – Z
Allowed amount

Maximum amount on which payment is based for covered health care services. This may be called “eligible expense,” “payment allowance" or "negotiated rate." If your provider charges more than the allowed amount, you may have to pay the difference.


Appeal

A written or oral request, by or on behalf of a member, to re-evaluate a specific determination made by Sharp Health Plan or any of its delegated entities (for example, plan providers).


Balance billing

When a provider bills you for the difference between the provider’s charge and the allowed amount. For example, if the provider’s charge is $100 and the allowed amount is $70, the provider may bill you for the remaining $30. A preferred provider may not balance bill you for covered services.


Brand-name drug

A drug that is marketed under a proprietary, trademark-protected name.


Co-insurance

A percentage of the cost of a covered benefit (for example, 20%) that an enrollee pays after the enrollee has paid the deductible, if a deductible applies to the covered benefit, such as the prescription drug benefit.


Complications of pregnancy

Conditions due to pregnancy, labor and delivery that require medical care to prevent serious harm to the health of the mother or the fetus. Morning sickness and a non-emergency cesarean section aren't complications of pregnancy. 


Co-payment

A fixed dollar amount (for example, $20) that an enrollee pays for a covered benefit after the enrollee has paid the deductible, if a deductible applies to the covered benefit, such as the prescription drug benefit.


Deductible

 

The amount an enrollee pays for certain covered benefits before Sharp Health Plan begins payment for all or part of the cost of the covered benefit under the terms of the policy.


Durable medical equipment

Certain medical equipment that is ordered by your doctor for medical reasons. Examples are walkers, wheelchairs, or hospital beds.


Emergency medical condition

An illness, injury, symptom or condition so serious that a reasonable person would seek care right away to avoid severe harm.


Emergency medical transportation

Ambulance services for an emergency medical condition.


Emergency room care

Emergency services you get in an emergency room.


Emergency services

Evaluation of an emergency medical condition and treatment to keep the condition from getting worse.


Exception request

A request for coverage of a prescription drug. If an enrollee, his or her designee, or prescribing health care provider submits an exception request for coverage of a prescription drug, Sharp Health Plan must cover the prescription drug when the drug is determined to be medically necessary to treat the enrollee's condition. Drugs and supplies that fall within one of the outpatient prescription drug benefit exclusions described in the Member Handbook are not eligible for an exception request.


Excluded services

Health care services that your health insurance or plan doesn’t pay for or cover.


Formulary

The complete list of drugs preferred for use and eligible for coverage under a Sharp Health Plan product, and includes all drugs covered under the outpatient prescription drug benefit of the Sharp Health Plan product. A formulary is also known as a prescription drug list.


Generic drug

The same drug as its brand name equivalent in dosage, safety, strength, how it is taken, quality, performance, and intended use.


Grievance

A written or oral expression of dissatisfaction regarding Sharp Health Plan, a provider and/or a pharmacy, including quality of care concerns.


Habilitation services

Health care services that help a person keep, learn or improve skills and functioning for daily living. Examples include therapy for a child who isn’t walking or talking at the expected age. These services may include physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and other services for people with disabilities in a variety of inpatient and/or outpatient settings.


Health insurance

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


Home health care

Health care services a person receives at home.


Hospice services

Services to provide comfort and support for persons in the last stages of a terminal illness and their families.


Hospitalization

Care in a hospital that requires admission as an inpatient and usually requires an overnight stay. An overnight stay for observation could be outpatient care.


Hospital outpatient care

Care in a hospital that usually doesn’t require an overnight stay.


In-network co-insurance

The percent (for example, 20%) you pay of the allowed amount for covered health care services to providers who contract with your health insurance or plan. In-network co-insurance usually costs you less than out-of-network co-insurance. 


In-network co-payment

A fixed amount (for example, $15) you pay for covered health care services to providers who contract with your health insurance or plan. In-network co-payments usually are less than out-of-network co-payments.


Medically necessary

Services, supplies, or drugs that are needed for the prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of your medical condition and meet accepted standards of medical practice.


Network

The facilities, providers and suppliers your health insurer or plan has contracted with to provide health care services.


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.


Out-of-network co-insurance

The percent (for example, 40%) you pay of the allowed amount for covered health care services to providers who do not contract with your health insurance or plan. Out-of-network co-insurance usually costs you more than in-network co-insurance.


Out-of-network co-payment

A fixed amount (for example, $30) you pay for covered health care services from providers who do not contract with your health insurance or plan. Out-of-network co-payments usually are more than in-network co-payments.


Out-of-pocket limit or maximum

 

The most you pay during a policy period (usually a year) before your health insurance or plan begins to pay 100% of the allowed amount. This limit never includes your premium, balance-billed charges or health care your health insurance or plan doesn’t cover. Some health insurance or plans don’t count all of your co-payments, deductibles, co-insurance payments, out-of-network payments or other expenses toward this limit.


Physician services

Health care services a licensed medical physician (M.D. – Medical Doctor or D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) provides or coordinates.


Plan

A benefit your employer, union or other group sponsor provides to you to pay for your health care services.


Plan medical group (PMG)

A designated group of physicians and hospitals associated with your network.


Preauthorization

A decision by your health insurer or plan that a health care service, treatment plan, prescription drug or durable medical equipment is medically necessary. Sometimes called prior authorization, prior approval or precertification. Your health insurance or plan may require preauthorization for certain services before you receive them, except in an emergency. Preauthorization isn’t a promise your health insurance or plan will cover the cost.


Preferred provider

A provider who has a contract with your health insurer or plan to provide services to you at a discount. Check your policy to see if you can see all preferred providers or if your health insurance or plan has a “tiered” network and you must pay extra to see some providers. Your health insurance or plan may have preferred providers who are also “participating” providers. Participating providers also contract with your health insurer or plan, but the discount may not be as great, and you may have to pay more.


Premium

The amount that must be paid for your health insurance or plan. You and/or your employer usually pay it monthly, quarterly or yearly.


Prescription drug

A drug, approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that is prescribed by the enrollee’s prescribing provider and requires a prescription under applicable law.


Prescription drug coverage

Health insurance or plan that helps pay for prescription drugs and medications.


Primary care physician

A physician (M.D. – Medical Doctor or D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) who directly provides or coordinates a range of health care services for a patient.


Primary care provider (PCP)

Your primary care provider is the doctor or other provider you see first for most health problems. He or she makes sure you get the care you need to keep you healthy. He or she also may talk with other doctors and health care providers about your care and refer you to them. In many Medicare health plans, you must see your primary care provider before you see any other health care provider.


Provider

A physician (M.D. – Medical Doctor or D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine), health care professional or health care facility licensed, certified or accredited as required by state law.


Reconstructive surgery

Surgery and follow-up treatment needed to correct or improve a part of the body because of birth defects, accidents, injuries or medical conditions.


Rehabilitation services

Health care services that help a person keep, get back or improve skills and functioning for daily living that have been lost or impaired because a person was sick, hurt or disabled. These services may include physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and psychiatric rehabilitation services in a variety of inpatient and/or outpatient settings.


Skilled nursing care

Services from licensed nurses in your own home or in a nursing home. Skilled care services are from technicians and therapists in your own home or in a nursing home.


Specialist

A physician specialist focuses on a specific area of medicine or a group of patients to diagnose, manage, prevent or treat certain types of symptoms and conditions. A non-physician specialist is a provider who has more training in a specific area of health care.


Specialty formulary

A list of approved specialty drugs used to treat complex or chronic conditions such as hepatitis or cancer.


UCR (Usual, customary and reasonable)

The amount paid for a medical service in a geographic area based on what providers in the area usually charge for the same or similar medical service. The UCR amount sometimes is used to determine the allowed amount. 


Urgent care

Care for an illness, injury or condition serious enough that a reasonable person would seek care right away, but not so severe as to require emergency room care.