Keep this in mind when you hear the rhetoric crying about limited networks harming consumers. In some states insurance regulators are seeking to force insurers to expand their networks at consumer urging. Of course, this will increase costs and premiums. As long as patients have a choice among plans as nearly everyone does, shouldn’t we allow that choice to be real?
Lots of people shopping in the new health care marketplaces this year picked health plans that limited their choice of doctors and hospitals. The plans were popular because they tended to cost less than more conventional plans that covered nearly every health care provider in a region.
The proliferation of these more limited plans, called narrow networks, has worried consumer advocates and insurance regulators. The concern is that people will struggle to find the care they need if their choices are limited.
Maybe we don’t have to worry so much. A new study suggests that, done right, a narrow network can succeed in saving money and helping certain patients get appropriate health care. The study, published as a working paper with the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at a program that used financial incentives to steer workers into narrow plans. Those that chose the plans saved their employer money, saw their primary care doctors more and used the emergency room less. That doesn’t mean that narrow networks are the right choice for every health care consumer, but it all sounds like good news for the type of patient who wants such a plan. Done right, a smaller choice of doctors may have some advantages.