What Is Insurance?
Insurance is a contract, represented by a policy, in which a policyholder receives financial protection or reimbursement against losses from an insurance company. The company pools clients’ risks to make payments more affordable for the insured. Most people have some insurance: for their car, their house, their healthcare, or their life. Insurance policies hedge against financial losses resulting from accidents, injury, or property damage. Insurance also helps cover costs associated with liability (legal responsibility) for damage or injury caused to a third party
- Insurance is a contract (policy) in which an insurer indemnifies another against losses from specific contingencies or perils.
- There are many types of insurance policies. Life, health, homeowners, and auto are among the most common forms of insurance.
- The core components that make up most insurance policies are the premium, deductible, and policy limits.
How Insurance Works
Many insurance policy types are available, and virtually any individual or business can find an insurance company willing to insure them—for a price. Common personal insurance policy types are auto, health, homeowners, and life insurance. Most individuals in the United States have at least one of these types of insurance, and car insurance is required by state law.
Businesses obtain insurance policies for field-specific risks, For example, a fast-food restaurant’s policy may cover an employee’s injuries from cooking with a deep fryer. Medical malpractice insurance covers injury- or death-related liability claims resulting from the health care provider’s negligence or malpractice. Businesses may be required by state law to buy specific insurance coverages.
There are also insurance policies available for very specific needs, such as kidnap, ransom and extortion insurance (K&R), identity theft insurance, and wedding liability and cancellation insurance.
Insurance Policy Components
Understanding how insurance works can help you choose a policy. For instance, comprehensive coverage may or may not be the right type of auto insurance for you. Three components of any insurance type are the premium, policy limit, and deductible.
A policy’s premium is its price, typically a monthly cost. Often, an insurer takes multiple factors into account to set a premium. Here are a few examples
- Auto insurance premiums: Your history of property and auto claims, age and location, creditworthiness, and many other factors that may vary by state.
- Home insurance premiums: The value of your home, personal belongings, location, claims history, and coverage amounts.
- Health insurance premiums: Age, sex, location, health status, and coverage levels.
- Life insurance premiums: Age, sex, tobacco use, health, and amount of coverage.
Much depends on the insurer’s perception of your risk for a claim. For example, suppose you own several expensive automobiles and have a history of reckless driving. In that case, you will likely pay more for an auto policy than someone with a single midrange sedan and a perfect driving record. However, different insurers may charge different premiums for similar policies. So finding the price that is right for you requires some legwork.
The policy limit is the maximum amount an insurer will pay for a covered loss under a policy. Maximums may be set per period (e.g., annual or policy term), per loss or injury, or over the life of the policy, also known as the lifetime maximum.
Typically, higher limits carry higher premiums. For a general life insurance policy, the maximum amount that the insurer will pay is referred to as the face value. This is the amount paid to your beneficiary upon your death.
The federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) prevents ACA-compliant plans from instituting a lifetime limit for essential healthcare benefits such as family planning, maternity services, and pediatric care.4
The deductible is a specific amount you pay out of pocket before the insurer pays a claim. Deductibles serve as deterrents to large volumes of small and insignificant claims.
For example, a $1,000 deductible means you pay the first $1,000 toward any claims. Suppose your car’s damage totals $2,000. You pay the first $1,000, and your insurer pays the remaining $1,000.
Deductibles can apply per policy or claim, depending on the insurer and the type of policy. Health plans may have an individual deductible and a family deductible. Policies with high deductibles are typically less expensive because the high out-of-pocket expense generally results in fewer small claims.