It’s open enrollment season for Affordable Care Act marketplace plans, Medicare Advantage plans and many employer-sponsored plans as well. Lots of evidence suggests you should shop around, and shop carefully, though this is harder than it sounds.
When you select a health care plan, you probably consider premiums, and maybe you check deductibles and other cost sharing. But you can’t easily scrutinize the plans’ networks and the quality of the doctors in them. That’s too bad, because you may be missing something important.
Many health insurance options offered by employers or sold on the Obamacare marketplace come with narrower networks — covering treatment from a limited slate of doctors and hospitals. (Though there’s no official definition of a “narrow network,” many studies classify networks as narrow when they include less than about 30 percent of doctors or hospitals in the area.)
Narrow network plans are cheaper, and insurers say they try to maintain quality as they narrow the choices they cover. Some appear to succeed, but some don’t, and that’s hard to fully assess before you sign up.
It’s virtually impossible to thoroughly check the quality of doctors in each insurance plan. A typical plan, even a narrow one, may have a network of hundreds or thousands of physicians. It is a potentially simpler task just to know if you’re enrolling in a narrow or broad network plan. But in a study of Obamacare enrollees, for example, as many as 40 percent didn’t know this information, either.
That confusion is understandable. A study of 2016 marketplace offerings in 13 states found that only two provided indications of network size. Eight of them, as well as HealthCare.gov, provided a way to look up whether a doctor was in a plan’s network, but only two could filter plans to show only those with providers a consumer selects.
“To our surprise, we also found that few marketplaces could indicate which hospitals were in plans’ networks,” said Charlene Wong, a pediatrician and researcher at the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University and lead author of the study. “In addition, none of these tools indicated network breadth by specialty.” This means that a “broad” network plan might actually be quite narrow for some specialists, without consumers knowing.
Read more at the New York Times.