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Understanding the US healthcare system: A guide for Indian immigrants

The US healthcare system can be complex and overwhelming, especially for those who are new to the country. As an Indian immigrant, it is essential to understand how the US healthcare system works to ensure that you receive the care you need. In this guide, we will provide an overview of the US healthcare system, including information on insurance, healthcare providers, and how to access care.

However, before we dive deep into the topic it is very important to understand multiple terms that are used frequently. There are many terms that may be unfamiliar to those who are new to the system. In this response, we will explain some of the most common health insurance terms in simple language.

A collage of images representing medical items and phrases in the US health insurance system
The Basics of US Health Insurance for Immigrants

Health Insurance Related Terms you need to know


A premium is the amount you pay each month for your health insurance plan. Think of it as a monthly subscription fee for your health insurance.


A deductible is the amount you pay out of pocket for covered services before your insurance plan begins to pay. For example, if your deductible is $1,000, you would need to pay the first $1,000 of covered medical expenses each year before your insurance plan starts paying.


A copayment (or copay) is a fixed amount you pay for certain services covered by your insurance plan. For example, you may have a $20 copay for each doctor's visit.


Coinsurance is the percentage of the cost of a covered service that you are responsible for paying after you meet your deductible. For example, if your coinsurance is 20%, you would pay 20% of the cost of a covered service, and your insurance plan would pay the remaining 80%.

Out-of-pocket maximum:

An out-of-pocket maximum is the most you will have to pay for covered services during a plan year. Once you reach your out-of-pocket maximum, your insurance plan will pay 100% of the cost of covered services for the rest of the plan year.


A network is a group of healthcare providers, hospitals, and other facilities that have contracted with your insurance plan to provide care at a discounted rate. If you see a healthcare provider who is outside of your insurance plan's network, you may have to pay more for care and they are called "out of network" providers


Preauthorization is a requirement that some insurance plans have for certain services, such as surgeries or imaging tests. Before you can receive these services, your healthcare provider must get approval from your insurance plan.

Explanation of Benefits (EOB):

An EOB is a statement you receive from your insurance plan that explains how much your healthcare provider charged for a service, how much your insurance plan paid, and how much you owe (if anything) for that service.

It is important to have a basic understanding of these terms to make informed decisions about your healthcare. By familiarizing yourself with these common health insurance terms, you can better navigate the healthcare system and make the most of your health insurance plan.

Now that we have an understanding of these terms, let's move forward.

Insurance in the US Healthcare System

Health insurance is a crucial component of the US healthcare system. There are two primary types of health insurance plans in the US:

  • private

  • public

Private health insurance is typically offered through an employer or purchased on the individual market.

Public health insurance is provided by the government and includes programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

For those who are employed, the employer may offer health insurance as part of their benefits package. This can include options for coverage for the employee, their spouse, and their children. If you are not employed, you can purchase health insurance on the individual market through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace.

Healthcare Providers in the US Healthcare System

There are several types of healthcare providers in the US healthcare system, including primary care providers, specialists, and hospitals. Primary care providers are typically the first point of contact for patients and are responsible for preventive care and managing chronic conditions. Specialists provide care for specific conditions, such as dermatology or cardiology. Hospitals offer inpatient and outpatient care, including surgeries, emergency services, and diagnostic tests.

Accessing Care in the US Healthcare System

Once you have health insurance and have identified a healthcare provider, accessing care may seem relatively straightforward but it may not be as straightforward.

To schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider, you can typically call the provider's office or schedule an appointment online. And this is where there is the biggest bottleneck. You may or may not get an appointment at your convenience. For many new immigrants, it is actually difficult to even find a primary care provider to accept them as their patients. However, there are many options comin up these days that are trying to solve this problem. One of those options is One Medical and multiple tech companies have partnered with them to provide primary care for their employees.

If you have an urgent medical issue, you can go to an emergency department at a hospital or urgent care center. Urgent care centers are generally cheaper, have shorter wait times and offer some of the basic non-life threatening services. Some examples of conditions that may be treated at an urgent care center include minor injuries, sore throats, ear infections, and minor cuts or burns. Urgent care centers may also offer diagnostic services such as X-rays and lab work.

It is essential to remember that the cost of healthcare in the US can be expensive. Even with health insurance, there may be out-of-pocket costs, such as copayments, deductibles, and coinsurance. It is also important to be aware of your insurance coverage and understand which services are covered and which are not.

Tips for Navigating the US Healthcare System as an Indian Immigrant

Understand your insurance coverage:

Be familiar with the terms of your insurance plan and what services are covered.

Find a healthcare provider who understands your cultural needs:

Look for healthcare providers who are familiar with Indian culture and can provide culturally competent care.

Take advantage of preventive care:

Schedule regular check-ups with your primary care provider to stay healthy and prevent chronic conditions. Most insurances cover a yearly medical checkup that includes a full body check-up. Do not skip that.

Know your options for emergency care:

Identify the nearest emergency departments and urgent care centers in your area in case of an emergency.

Be an advocate for your health:

Communicate with your healthcare provider about any concerns or questions you may have about your care.

In conclusion, understanding the US healthcare system is critical for Indian immigrants to access the care they need. It is essential to be familiar with insurance coverage, healthcare providers, and how to access care. By following the tips provided in this guide, Indian immigrants can navigate the US healthcare system with confidence and ensure they receive the care they need.

The idea of this guide was to give a basic overview of the system. We will be covering individual topics in more details in our upcoming guides.

We hope this was helpful for all of you.

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