Inside your health insurance benefits are segregated into in and out of network benefit levels. Ultimately there are out of pocket maximums that once met will equalize payment levels for both in and out of network coverage, however until those very high out of pocket limits are met the in and out of network benefit definitely differ.
Typically out of network expense levels are two to three times more expensive than in-network costs. This holds true as far as deductible and co-insurance goes. The basic reason for this is that the insurance company has more control over in-network expenses as they are rendered by providers contracted with the insurance carrier where the out of network care is not performed under a contract where rates are spelled out.
Out of network expenses may or may not count towards in-network totals. This is something that we will see continue to change as plans look to further control healthcare expenses. Let’s look at the various possibilities. The move is more away from inclusion of out of network care in the in-network deductible bucket, forcing the cost of care up even more, thus discouraging the out of network care as much as possible.
Insurance carriers recommend plan design to self-insured groups with whom they work. For plans where the insurance company is fully insuring the members (thus taking the financial risk) they make the decision on plan design. What this means is we can see within the same insurance carrier (who is listed on ID cards) with possibly many different plan designs. The reason for this is how tightly, the financially responsible party wants to control the healthcare expenses incurred.
Generally speaking fully insured plans are already or are moving towards a split between in and out of network expenses where one never helps cover any of the costs for the other. Thus, if you incur out of network expenses that are totally on top of in-network care you receive. What does this do to your out of pocket expenses?
Generally, out-of-network care limits are twice the in-network care cost limits. So if you use out of network providers extensively along with in network providers, it’s possible to end up spending three times or more the in network deductible before you are just on cost sharing. The total costs for out of network in some plans are quite high, so in the scenario where you are using both in and out of network providers you can really end up spending a lot more money than you planned to spend on healthcare for the year.
If you have a plan design not changed in a while it is possible your plan may still allow out of network care costs to count also towards in network deductibles. This is becoming rare. When it does happen, if you hit the out of network deductible, you will also have met your, in-network deductible as well which helps keep the total costs in check for you. These plans are rarer these days as healthcare costs continue to spiral out of control. Most plans do not work that way.
Most plans keep the in and out of network costs separate. It is all about making the cost difference between in and out of network care so significant there becomes a serious financial incentive to use in network provider. Part of it is the fact that out of network providers can collect any amount they want and insurance will only reimburse, or accept towards the deductible the amount they deem the “allowable.”
Allowable levels are becoming better defined by the insurance carriers and communicated to the members. Often they are the same or only slightly more than is paid to an in-network provider. So the use of an out-of-network provider results in a portion of the cost going to the deductible while you may pay multiples of that amount for the actual care received. You also end up paying much more for that deductible as well. Overall going out of network these days will really cost you a pretty penny.
Also, those who use out of network care and pay the higher cost sharing typically end up paying the difference between charges and the insurance company allowable. This can make the cost of care exceed significantly the maximum out of pocket levels stated in the insurance policy, because those limits are based only on allowable charges.
Ultimately one must examine the specific plan they are looking at. Unless written evidence suggests that the in network or out of network deductibles and cost sharing cross fee one another towards the maximum out of pocket level, assume they don’t and that they are stacked. Then add on the cost of above allowable costs and figure is the out of network care worth the extra costs.
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