The term managed care is used in the United State to describe a variety of techniques intended to reduce the cost of providing health benefits and improve the quality of care ("managed care techniques") for organizations that use those techniques or provide them as services to other organizations ("managed care organization" or "MCO"), or to describe systems of financing and delivering health care to enrollees organized around managed care techniques and concepts ("managed care delivery systems"). According to the United States National Library of Medicine the term "managed care" encompasses programs:
...intended to reduce unnecessary health care costs through a variety of mechanisms, including: economic incentives for physicians and patients to select less costly forms of care; programs for reviewing the medical necessity of specific services; increased beneficiary cost sharing; controls on inpatient admissions and lengths of stay; the establishment of cost-sharing incentives for outpatient surgery; selective contracting with health care providers; and the intensive management of high-cost health care cases. The programs may be provided in a variety of settings, such as Health Maintenance Organizations and Preferred Provider Organizations.
The growth of managed care in the U.S. was spurred by the enactment of the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973. While managed care techniques were pioneered by health maintenance organizations, they are now used by a variety of private health benefit programs. Managed care is now nearly ubiquitous in the U.S, but has attracted controversy because it has largely failed in the overall goal of controlling medical costs. Proponents and critics are also sharply divided on managed care's overall impact on the quality of U.S. health care delivery.