Cost-sharing payments for out-of-network care in commercially insured adults

Wendy Yi Xu, Bryan E. Dowd, MacArius M. Donneyong, Yiting Li, Sheldon M. Retchin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: Providers who do not contract with insurance plans are considered out-of-network (OON) providers. There were 2 objectives in this study: (1) to examine the variations of OON cost sharing, both at the state level and by care settings, and (2) to investigate the pattern of OON care use and cost sharing associated with OON care over time. STUDY DESIGN: Secondary data analysis using claims data of employer-sponsored insurance enrollees. METHODS: The study sample included adults aged 18 to 64 years who were continuously enrolled for at least a full calendar year with medical and prescription drug coverage and for whom OON care payment data were available. We examined levels and distributions of cost sharing for OON care from 2012 to 2017, in both emergency department (ED) and non-ED care settings. Outcome measures included annual use of health plan-covered OON care and total out-of-pocket (OOP) cost sharing for OON care. We also measured the use of and cost-sharing spending for OON care based on urgency and site of service. Logistic regression models were constructed to estimate the probability of OON care. Among those with each type of OON care, a generalized linear regression model was used to estimate the OOP spending on OON care. RESULTS: Slowly decreasing rates of OON care over time occurred in different care settings and at different urgency levels. The cost-sharing amounts for OON care rose rapidly from 2012 through 2016, before slowing slightly in 2017. The growth of cost sharing for OON care during nonemergent hospitalizations especially increased from $671 to $1286 during the study period. The amount enrollees spent on OON care grew in most states, but there were substantial variations. CONCLUSIONS: Cost-sharing payments for OON care represent a growing financial burden for some enrollees. Consumers should be held harmless from higher cost sharing for OON care when it occurs without their knowledge or consent. Further, health plan network adequacy may also merit closer scrutiny. Leveraging provider participation in narrow networks must be balanced with broader consumer protections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)598-604
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Managed Care
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2019

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