Narrow networks (managed care provider networks that include a limited choice of participating healthcare providers and suppliers) have been widely criticized by consumers and consumer-rights groups, particularly in light of the number of narrow network products that are included in the ACA exchange marketplace. Use of narrow networks by self-insured businesses is also growing more prevalent. For consumers who have multiple options for insurance coverage, the question is often one of choice – am I willing to pay more in premiums in order to continue to see my existing doctor, go to the hospital of my choice, or have a wider range of options if I need to see a specialist?
From the doctor’s perspective, however, narrow networks are very confusing. In many cases, it is unclear why a particular doctor is, or is not, allowed to participate in the network. In some cases, only certain physicians are invited to participate in the network, leaving other physicians without knowledge that the plan even exists until a patient calls to find out why the physician does not participate.
While willingness by the physician or physician group to accept the reimbursement rates offered by the payor is one criterion for participation in the narrow network plans, other criteria come into place as well. An invitation to participate in a narrow network may be based upon the payor’s rating of the ability of the physician to offer quality of care and to provide care efficiency (a cost-based rating system). The tier and rating systems, however, are not consistent among payors and often criticized for producing inaccurate, irrelevant and unreliable results. Physicians also worry that there may be a loss of professional autonomy if physicians are pressured, in the course of providing care, to meet the tier and rating criteria developed by the payors in order to participate in the narrow networks rather than to exercise independent medical judgement.
A number of measures have been recently introduced to address consumer-driven concerns with narrow networks. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2017 (available here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/12/02/2015-29884/patient-protection-and-affordable-care-act-hhs-notice-of-benefit-and-payment-parameters-for-2017) proposes that states should be required to develop rules to test the adequacy of provider participants in payor networks. In addition, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has been working to update model legislation regarding plan network access and adequacy. Finally, legislation regarding network adequacy has been adopted or proposed in a number of states. Typically, state laws incorporate rules regarding maximum travel distances for a patient to see a participating provider, maximum wait-times and/or acceptable provider-to-beneficiary ratios.
If you have questions regarding your relationship with third-party payors, such as managed care contracting, billing audits, or inclusion in narrow networks, Parker Poe has a number of experienced attorneys able to assist.