What Health Insurance Doesn’t Cover: Your Guide

Insurance of any kind can be confusing, but when it comes to medical insurance, it’s really tricky to tell what’s covered and what isn’t. Whether you’re shopping around for a new plan or recently just got on a new health insurance plan, it’s good to know the ins and outs of your health insurance coverage before you end up with a large stack of medical bills that you can’t afford. In this article, we’ll discuss the things that medical insurance surprisingly doesn’t cover so that you can make better decisions about your medical expenses. 

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What health insurance does cover

In accordance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Health Insurance Marketplace must now cover a specific set of services at little or no out-of-pocket expense to you. They are also required to cover at least 10 essential health benefits. These essential health benefits (EHBs) include:

  • Ambulatory patient services
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization and surgery
  • Maternity and newborn healthcare
  • Mental health treatment and substance abuse disorders including counseling and psychiatric treatment
  • Pharmaceutical drugs
  • Rehabilitation services that provide care for those suffering from disabilities and injuries. 
  • Laboratory services (blood and urine testing, etc.)
  • Preventative and wellness services
  • Pediatric services

In short, a lot of the basic care that you will get on a regular basis should be covered by your health plan. Most of the time your doctor won’t suggest treatments that are not covered by your insurance. In a lot of cases, they will try to familiarize themselves with your health insurance plan so that they can lead you in the right direction. However, don’t leave the all the responsibility in the hands of your doctor. It’s important that you make time to read through your health insurance policy and look for any holes before getting services. 

What health insurance doesn’t cover

If you have a good insurance plan, most of your basic medical needs will be covered, but you might be surprised to know the services that generally are. Here is a list of services that health insurance does not cover:

  • Nursing home services: Most nursing home services are not covered by standard health insurance or even Medicare. However, nursing home care is covered by Medicaid. Many people are confused about this, because they confuse short-term care from a skilled nursing facility with long-term nursing home care. These two things are very different. For example, if you were to suffer from a fall or some other type of injury that required you to get surgery, you would need short-term care in a rehabilitative facility to help you get back on your feet. That kind of care is covered. Full-fledge nursing home care on the other hand, wouldn’t be covered because most health insurance providers place time limits on how long they will cover nursing home services. That being said, Medicare will only cover skilled nursing if the patient stayed for at least three days before staying in the skilled nursing facility. Additionally, the patient must be admitted to the facility for the purpose of seeking treatment for a short-term illness or injury as opposed to a chronic one. 
  • The shots you get before traveling abroad: At some point, health insurance companies decided that they would only cover services and procedures considered to be medically necessary, and travel vaccines didn’t make the cut. Now, we’re not talking about your standard health vaccines like the tetanus or flu shot; those are covered. But for those of you who like to travel, the cost of your Typhoid or Yellow Fever vaccine is coming out of your own pocket. This rule of thumb goes for the vast majority of health insurance policies, including Medicare.
  • Cosmetic surgery: Once again, health insurance policies will usually only cover what is “medically necessary.” It’s safe to say that Botox and lip injections will not be covered by your health insurance policy. However, there are certain surgeries that dance on the line between medically necessary and cosmetic. For example, if you wanted plastic surgery on your nose because you thought it was too big, that’s considered cosmetic. But if you had to get work done on your nose due to issues with your sinuses, then that’s probably going to be considered medically necessary. 
  • Acupuncture & alternative therapies: The rules surrounding acupuncture and other types of alternative therapies such as chiropractic care aren’t as black and white. Coverage for such services like massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care aren’t part of the requirements for most individual health care plans. However, depending on what state you live in, your health insurance plan might cover chiropractic costs. Say you are involved in a car accident that caused you to suffer from back injuries as a result. There is a good chance that your health insurance plan will cover these services. However, if you are a regular at the chiropractor just because you enjoy it, then it probably won’t be. While the standard Medicare plan does not cover acupuncture, there are some Medicare Advantage cans that can. Keep in mind that with most plans who do cover these types of services, there is usually a limit on how many visits you get. 
  • Dental, Vision & Hearing: If you are shopping around for health insurance plans with your employer, note that dental, vision and hearing services are not covered under a regular health insurance policy. If you want to get insured for these services, you will have to buy separate insurance plans for each one. Keep in mind that a lot of times, these insurance policies don’t have any limits on how much they can charge you in out-of-pocket expenses, so research different dental offices before receiving services. Some people choose to not include a dental plan at all. If you wear glasses or contacts, however, it’s probably worth looking into your options for vision insurance.
  • Weight loss surgery: If you’re considering having weight loss surgery, you might be in luck if you have Medicare or Medicaid. While there is currently not a requirement at the federal level for health insurance plans to cover bariatric surgery, Medicare and many Medicaid plans do cover it. Aside from those two plans, more than half of the states in the U.S. do require there to be at least partial coverage for bariatric survey as an essential health benefit (EHB). Remember that even if the state you live in mandates coverage for this procedure, you may still be responsible for some of the medical bills related to your weight loss surgery. 
  • Preventative screenings: Before we go any further, there are A LOT of preventative tests that are covered by your health insurance policy, but there are some that aren’t. This is where things get confusing for a lot of people. For example, mammograms, cholesterol screenings, and colonoscopies will be covered. But if you need to get Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) screening, it most likely will not be covered.

  • Certain medications: Once again, there are a ton of prescription medications that are covered by most health insurance plans, since pharmaceutical services are one of the essential health benefits (EHBs). However, health insurers get to choose what to cover and what not to cover. Most healthcare insurance plans will choose to cover the minimum. This means that they will pick a drug from each class to cover, and not cover the rest. Many times, the generic version of the drug you are prescribed will be covered by your health insurance, while the name brand will not.