Let's go over the plan types you may see offered depending on what's available in your area. There are different types of health plans that meet different needs.
An HMO (or “health maintenance organization”) requires you to select a primary care physician (PCP) who acts as a "gatekeeper." Think of your PCP as your personal health quarterback, strategically coordinating all of your care and providing for your basic healthcare needs. If you ever need to see a specialist or require a diagnostic service (such as a blood test), you will need a referral from your PCP. Your referral will always be to a provider within your HMO network. If you choose to see a doctor outside of the network or without a referral, you will generally have to pay all costs out-of-pocket unless it is a true medical emergency or you have no other options. With an HMO, your physician network is local.
A PPO (or “preferred provider organization”) is a health plan with a “preferred” network of providers in your area. You do not need to select a primary care physician and you do not need referrals to see a specialist. If you see a “preferred” (or “in-network”) provider, you will only be responsible for paying a portion of the bill (according to your plan's coverage structure). If you choose to see a doctor who is outside the preferred network, you will generally have to pay a larger portion of the bill than you would for an “in-network” provider, but most plans will still cover a portion of the bill. With a PPO, you will have access to out-of-state providers that are considered in-network.
An EPO (or “exclusive provider organization”) is a bit like a hybrid of an HMO and a PPO. EPOs generally offer a little more flexibility than an HMO and are generally a bit less pricey than a PPO. Like a PPO, you do not need a referral to get care from a specialist. But like an HMO, you are responsible for paying out-of-pocket if you seek care from a doctor outside your plan's network. An EPO is a good option if you want to see specialists without a PCP referral within your network.
A POS (or "point of service”) plan is also a hybrid of an HMO and PPO plan. Like an HMO, you will need a referral from your PCP in order to see a specialist. But, like a PPO plan, you will pay less if you use doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers in the plan’s network, and you will have access to out-of-network providers at an increased cost.
We recommend checking out our handy insurance guide here if you want more health insurance hacks and know-how: The Stride Guide to Health Insurance
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