No matter what kind of health plan consumers choose, they will find fewer doctors and hospitals in their network — or pay much more for the privilege of going to any provider they want. These so-called narrow networks, featuring limited groups of providers, have made a big entrance on the newly created state insurance exchanges, where they are a common feature in many of the plans.
Smaller networks are also becoming more common in health care coverage offered by employers and in private Medicare Advantage plans. Insurers, ranging from national behemoths like WellPoint, UnitedHealth and Aetna to much smaller local carriers, are fully embracing the idea, saying narrower networks are essential to controlling costs and managing care. Major players contend they can avoid the uproar that crippled a similar push in the 1990s.
“We have to break people away from the choice habit that everyone has,” said Marcus Merz, the chief executive of PreferredOne, an insurer in Golden Valley, Minn., that is owned by two health systems and a physician group. “We’re all trying to break away from this fixation on open access and broad networks.”