Does a Health Plan Typically Pay for Services from Any Doctor?

Not always. Some types of plans encourage or require consumers to get care from a specific set of doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and other medical service providers who have entered into contracts with the plan to provide items and services at a negotiated rate. The providers in this designated set or network of providers are called “in-network” providers.

  • In-Network Provider: A provider who has a contract with a plan to provide health care items and services at a negotiated (or discounted) rate to consumers enrolled in the plan. Consumers will generally pay less if they see a provider in the network. These providers may also be called “preferred providers” or “participating providers.”
  • Out-of-Network Provider: A provider who doesn’t have a contract with a plan to provide health care items and services. If a plan covers outof-network services, the consumer usually pays more to see an out-of-network provider than an in-network provider. If a plan does not cover out-of-network services, then the consumer may, in most non-emergency instances, be responsible for paying the full amount charged by the out-of-network provider. Out-of-network providers may also be called “non-preferred” or “non-participating” providers.

Some examples of plan types that use provider networks include the following:

  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMO): A type of health insurance plan that usually limits coverage to care from doctors who work for or contract with the HMO. It generally won’t cover out-of-network care except in an emergency, or when a prior authorization to obtain care outside the network has been approved, or as otherwise required by law. An HMO may require a consumer to live or work in its service area to be eligible for coverage. HMOs often provide integrated care and focus on prevention and wellness. An HMO may require enrollees to obtain a referral from a primary care doctor to access other specialists.
  • Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO): A type of health plan where services are generally covered only if the consumer uses in-network doctors, specialists, or hospitals (except in an emergency). In general, EPOs do not require a referral from a primary care doctor to see other specialists, and in general there is very limited, if any, out-of-network coverage.
  • Point of Service (POS): A type of plan where a consumer pays less if they use in-network doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers. POS plans may require consumers to get a referral from their primary care doctor in order to see a specialist.
  • Preferred Provider Organization (PPO): A type of health plan where consumers pay less if they use in-network providers. They can use out-of-network doctors, hospitals, and providers without a referral for an additional cost.

Originally posted on CMS.gov

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