Selecting the right health insurance plan can be a complex process filled with industry jargon. Two common options are Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) and Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO) plans. While they share some similarities, there are key differences to understand when choosing between PPO and EPO.
PPO and EPO: How They Are Alike
Both PPO and EPO plans provide access to a network of approved healthcare providers, including doctors, hospitals, clinics, and specialists. By using in-network providers, insured members pay reduced, negotiated rates for care, often with lower deductibles and out-of-pocket costs compared to out-of-network providers. Monthly premiums are paid to the insurance company to maintain coverage.
PPO vs EPO: Key Differences
|Extensive network across the country,
(access care when traveling)
|Smaller and localized network,
(limited to a city or region)
|Partial coverage (60-80%),
Higher deductibles, but care is covered
|No coverage except for emergencies
Lower out-of-pocket costs for out-of-network care
|Generally cheaper premiums
|Self-referrals to specialists within the network without physician approval
|Referrals required from primary care doctor for specialist visits
1. Provider Network
- PPO networks are extensive, with providers across the country. This makes it easier to access care when traveling.
- EPO networks are much smaller and more localized, sometimes limited to a single city or region. There are fewer overall providers to choose from.
2. Out-of-Network Care
- PPOs provide partial coverage, usually 60-80%, for out-of-network providers. Deductibles are higher but care is still covered.
- EPOs offer no coverage for out-of-network care except in emergencies. All care must be within the network.
- EPO premiums are generally cheaper than PPO premiums, often significantly less expensive.
- However, PPOs have lower out-of-pocket costs for out-of-network care compared to zero EPO coverage.
- PPOs allow self-referrals to specialists within the network without needing physician approval.
- EPOs may require referrals from a primary care doctor to see specialists, even in-network.
PPO vs EPO: Which is Better?
There is no definitive “better” option. EPOs can provide major cost savings with premiums 20–30% lower than PPOs. However, PPOs offer more flexibility and lower out-of-pocket costs for out-of-network care.
When selecting between EPO and PPO plans, consider your budget, expected healthcare needs, preference for provider choice, and likelihood of requiring out-of-network care. Analyze different plan features like premiums, deductibles, and copays to make the best decision based on your unique situation.