Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO's)
With most HMO’s there is a fixed copay of a nominal fee not like an 80/20 copay in a fee-for service plan. Typically this is something like $5 or 10.00 for a doctor's visit or $25 for hospital emergency room
treatment. Your total medical costs will likely be significantly lower and far more manageable in an HMO than with most fee-for-service insurance plans.
While HMO's have gotten a bit of a bad rap they also have another advantage over a traditional fee-for service plan. Because the very nature of an HMO requires they get a fixed fee for covered treatments for medical conditions, it is in their best interest to keep you healthy! Therefore they typically will provide preventive care, such as office visits, immunizations, well-baby checkups, mammograms, and physicals The range of services covered by an HMO vary greatly, so it is important to compare available plans and find one that suits your needs. Also the cumbersome paperwork that often accompanies a Fee-for Service Plan is eliminated with an HMO. Instead of dealing with claim forms etc. members simply present a membership card, like a credit card, at the doctor's office or hospital.
The downside of HMO’s is that they can be somewhat limiting when it comes to your choice of practitioners. In almost all HMOs, you either are assigned or you choose one doctor to serve as your primary care doctor. This doctor monitors your health and provides most of your medical care, referring you to specialists and other health care professionals as needed. You usually cannot see a specialist without a referral from your primary care doctor. This is what is meant by the term “Managed Care” where your primary physician is expected to “manage” the care you receive.
However the choices within an HMO are not as limited as one might think. In some HMOs, doctors are salaried and they all practice out of the same HMO facility building. In others, independent groups of doctors contract with the HMO to take care of patients. These are called individual practice associations (IPAs) and they are made up of private physicians in private offices who agree to care for HMO members. You may be surprised to find that the doctor you are already seeing, or one that is highly recommended by your friends or neighbors is already participating in an IPA network.
In any event, before choosing an HMO, it is a good idea to talk to people you know who are enrolled in it. Ask them how they like the services and care given.
Questions to Ask About an HMO:
Are there many doctors to choose from? Do you select from a list of contract physicians or from the available staff of a group practice? Which doctors are accepting new patients? How hard is it to change doctors if you decide you want someone else? How are referrals to specialists handled?
Is it easy to get appointments? How far in advance must routine visits be scheduled? What arrangements does the HMO have for handling emergency care?
Does the HMO offer the services I want? What preventive services are provided? Are there limits on medical tests, surgery, mental health care, home care, or other support offered? What if you need a special service not provided by the HMO?
What is the service area of the HMO? Where are the facilities located in your community that serve HMO members? How convenient to your home and workplace are the doctors, hospitals, and emergency care centers that make up the HMO network? What happens if you or a family member are out of town and need medical treatment?
What will the HMO plan cost? What is the yearly total for monthly fees? In addition, are there co-payments for office visits, emergency care, prescribed drugs, or other services? How much?
Click for a free quote for family and individual PPO health insurance plans.