Understanding health care terms

Uniform glossary of health coverage and medical terms.

Reading about medical insurance can sometimes get technical and confusing. But with this glossary, you can find commonly-used healthcare terms hat will come in handy when looking for treatment and coverage options.

Remember these things when going through the glossary:

  • 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 overrules.
  • 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

An appeal is something you do if you disagree with our decision to deny a request for coverage of health care services or prescription drugs or payment for services or drugs you already received. You may also make an appeal if you disagree with our decision to stop services that you are receiving. For example, you may ask for an appeal if we don’t pay for a drug, item, or service you think you should be able to receive.


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 has a trade name used for marketing and advertising. These drugs are patented and can only be sold by the company with the patent.


Coinsurance

An amount you may be required to pay as your share of the cost for services or prescription drugs. Coinsurance is usually a percentage (for example, 20%).


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 caesarean section aren't complications of pregnancy.


Copayment

An amount you may be required to pay as your share of the cost for a medical service or supply, like a doctor’s visit, hospital outpatient visit, or a prescription drug. A copayment is a set amount, rather than a percentage. For example, you might pay $10 or $20 for a doctor’s visit or prescription drug.


Deductible

 

The amount you pay for covered health care services before Sharp Health Plan starts to pay.


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.


Excluded services

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


Formulary

The preferred list of medications we cover for illnesses and conditions.


Generic drug

A drug that is referred to by its chemical makeup without advertising. Generics are required to have the same active ingredient, strength, dosage form and route of administration as their brand-name equivalents.


Grievance

A type of complaint you make about us or one of our network providers or pharmacies, including a complaint concerning the quality of your care. This type of complaint does not involve coverage or payment disputes.


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 coverage

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


Prescription drugs

Drugs and medications that by law require a prescription.


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.