An entity seeking to transfer risk (an individual, corporation, or association of any type, etc.) becomes the 'insured' party once risk is assumed by an 'insurer', the insuring party, by means of a contract, called an insurance policy. Generally, an insurance contract includes, at a minimum, the following elements: identification of participating parties (the insurer, the insured, the beneficiaries), the premium, the period of coverage, the particular loss event covered, the amount of coverage (i.e., the amount to be paid to the insured or beneficiary in the event of a loss), and exclusions (events not covered). An insured is thus said to be "indemnified" against the loss covered in the policy.
^ Anzovin, Steven, Famous First Facts 2000, item # 2422, H. W. Wilson Company, ISBN 0-8242-0958-3 p. 121 The first life insurance company known of record was founded in 1706 by the Bishop of Oxford and the financier Thomas Allen in London, England. The company, called the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, collected annual premiums from policyholders and paid the nominees of deceased members from a common fund.
In determining premiums and premium rate structures, insurers consider quantifiable factors, including location, credit scores, gender, occupation, marital status, and education level. However, the use of such factors is often considered to be unfair or unlawfully discriminatory, and the reaction against this practice has in some instances led to political disputes about the ways in which insurers determine premiums and regulatory intervention to limit the factors used.
In the United States, insurance is regulated by the states under the McCarran-Ferguson Act, with "periodic proposals for federal intervention", and a nonprofit coalition of state insurance agencies called the National Association of Insurance Commissioners works to harmonize the country's different laws and regulations. The National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) also works to harmonize the different state laws.
A history of chronic disease or other potential health issues with an individual or family, such as heart disease or cancer, may result in paying higher premiums. Obesity, alcohol consumption, or smoking can affect rates as well. An applicant typically goes through a medical exam to determine whether he has high blood pressure or other signs of potential health issues that may result in premature death for the applicant and increased risk for the insurance company. People in good health typically pay lower life insurance premiums.
Comprehensive and collision auto insurance coverage, on the other hand, are tied to the insured vehicle (they follow the car). These coverages pay for damage that befalls the insured vehicle as a result of an accident or vandalism. One could say that if you loan your vehicle, you loan your insurance. With comprehensive insurance which covers almost everything, it is the car rather than the driver that is covered. This, however, requires many stipulations to be put in place, such as who is allowed to drive the car. If someone other than the insured is driving a vehicle covered by comprehensive coverage and is not listed as a covered driver – even if the other person has permission – the other person might not be covered in an accident. Family members (such as children or a spouse) are generally already included in the policy definition of “insured.” However, rarely will insurance cover a driver operating a vehicle without the owner’s permission.
Methods for transferring or distributing risk were practiced by Chinese and Babylonian traders as long ago as the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, respectively. Chinese merchants travelling treacherous river rapids would redistribute their wares across many vessels to limit the loss due to any single vessel's capsizing. The Babylonians developed a system which was recorded in the famous Code of Hammurabi, c. 1750 BC, and practiced by early Mediterranean sailing merchants. If a merchant received a loan to fund his shipment, he would pay the lender an additional sum in exchange for the lender's guarantee to cancel the loan should the shipment be stolen, or lost at sea.