Breadth and Exclusivity of Hospital and Physician Networks in US Insurance Markets

John A. Graves, Leonce Nshuti, Jordan Everson, Michael Richards, Melinda Buntin, Sayeh Nikpay, Zilu Zhou, Daniel Polsky

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17 Scopus citations


Importance: Little is known about the breadth of health care networks or the degree to which different insurers' networks overlap. Objective: To quantify network breadth and exclusivity (ie, overlap) among primary care physician (PCP), cardiology, and general acute care hospital networks for employer-based (large group and small group), individually purchased (marketplace), Medicare Advantage (MA), and Medicaid managed care (MMC) plans. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional study included 1192 networks from Vericred. The analytic unit was the network-zip code-clinician type-market, which captured attributes of networks from the perspective of a hypothetical patient seeking access to in-network clinicians or hospitals within a 60-minute drive. Exposures: Enrollment in a private insurance plan. Main Outcomes and Measures: Percentage of in-network physicians and/or hospitals within a 60-minute drive from a hypothetical patient in a given zip code (breadth). Number of physicians and/or hospitals within each network that overlapped with other insurers' networks, expressed as a percentage of the total possible number of shared connections (exclusivity). Descriptive statistics (mean, quantiles) were produced overall and by network breadth category, as follows: extra-small (<10%), small (10%-25%), medium (25%-40%), large (40%-60%), and extra-large (>60%). Networks were analyzed by insurance type, state, and insurance, physician, and/or hospital market concentration level, as measured by the Hirschman-Herfindahl index. Results: Across all US zip code-network observations, 415549 of 511143 large-group PCP networks (81%) were large or extra-large compared with 138485 of 202702 MA (68%), 191918 of 318082 small-group (60%), 60425 of 149841 marketplace (40%), and 21781 of 66370 MMC (40%) networks. Large-group employer networks had broader coverage than all other network plans (mean [SD] PCP breadth: large-group employer-based plans, 57.3% [20.1]; small-group employer-based plans, 45.7% [21.4]; marketplace, 36,4% [21.2]; MMC, 32.3% [19.3]; MA, 47.4% [18.3]). MMC networks were the least exclusive (a mean [SD] overlap of 61.3% [10.5] for PCPs, 66.5% [9.8] for cardiology, and 60.2% [12.3] for hospitals). Networks were narrowest (mean [SD] breadth 42.4% [16.9]) and most exclusive (mean [SD] overlap 47.7% [23.0]) in California and broadest (79.9% [16.6]) and least exclusive (71.1% [14.6]) in Nebraska. Rising levels of insurer and market concentration were associated with broader and less exclusive networks. Markets with concentrated primary care and insurance markets had the broadest (median [interquartile range {IQR}], 75.0% [60.0%-83.1%]) and least exclusive (median [IQR], 63.7% [52.4%-73.7%]) primary care networks among large-group commercial plans, while markets with least concentration had the narrowest (median [IQR], 54.6% [46.8%-67.6%]) and most exclusive (median [IQR], 49.4% [41.9%-56.9%]) networks. Conclusions and Relevance: In this study, narrower health care networks had a relatively large degree of overlap with other networks in the same geographic area, while broader networks were associated with physician, hospital, and insurance market concentration. These results suggest that many patients could switch to a lower-cost, narrow network plan without losing in-network access to their PCP, although future research is needed to assess the implications for care quality and clinical integration across in-network health care professionals and facilities in narrow network plans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number29419
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 17 2020

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