Choosing a Health Plan

In a lot of cases, our health insurance coverage comes from a group plan that is offered to you by your employer or by your spouse’s employer. For individuals who do not have insurance through their employer, individual policies exist as an option as well. 

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Of course, you can also opt for having no coverage at all, but in the case of an emergency, this could be detrimental to your financial health. No matter your age or marital status, it’s worth looking into your options for a good health care plan to protect yourself from a medically-induced financial struggle. 

No matter what kind of plan you choose, there will always be some out-of-pocket expenses, which means you’ll have some decisions to make. Deciding what type of healthcare plan to choose can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In the sections below, we will discuss the key factors that play into choosing the right health insurance plan. 

Types of health plans available 

There are a lot of different terms to learn when sorting through health insurance plans, and each of them come with their own set of distinctions. Before we discuss the difference between HMOs, PPOs, POS Plans and Indemnity plans, it’s important to start with the most common types of health insurance categories: 

  • Indemnity of Fee-for-Service Plans: Health insurance plans that enable you to go to any doctor or specialist that you want without a referral are called indemnity, fee-for-service, or point of service (POS) plans. The insurance company will cover a predetermined amount of your medical expenses, and you will be responsible for the remaining balance. These plans tend to be the most flexible since there are no set restrictions on the medical providers you’re allowed to use, and you are usually not required to choose a primary care physician. 
  • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs): A Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) is a band of healthcare professionals and medical facilities that offer a set package of medical services at a fixed rate. This plan does require that you have a primary care physician (PCP), who would serve as the middle-man when it comes to health care. Your primary care physician would then decide whether or not seeking out a specialist is necessary. If your PCP finds it necessary for you to see a specialist, they will then issue you an in-network referral. 
  • Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs): A Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) has the same organized care characteristic that you will get from an HMO, but with the benefit of more flexible options. A PPO allows you to seek healthcare outside of your network if you feel the need to. Keep in mind that doing so will usually cost you more in out-of-pocket expenses, but a PPO would still cover some of the cost, unlike an HMO. If having a wider variety of options is important to you, then a PPO might be a good option for you. 

Pros and cons of each health plan

Each type of plan comes with their own implications. Ultimately, you’ll have to figure out what is most important to you in order to make your decision. Let’s compare the pros and cons of each plan.

Indemnity Plans

Pros: The major advantage of this type of plan is that you are able to choose where you get your medical care from and which doctor to go to, without the need for a referral or a pre-approval. 

Cons: Indemnity plans will usually come with much higher premiums and deductibles, making them more expensive than perhaps an HMO or PPO. Another area where these plans fall short is the route you may have to take to get coverage. You may have to pay for your medical services out of your own pocket, and subsequently submit a claim to get reimbursed by your insurance company. There’s no telling how long this could take, and you also face the risk of not getting reimbursed at all. 

Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) 

Pros: The best thing about getting an HMO insurance plan is that your out-of-pocket medical expenses are usually pretty affordable, and you can expect to pay the same amount for each visit, depending on whether it’s a primary care physician or a specialist.

Cons: In most cases, any services that you receive from a medical professional outside of your healthcare network will not be covered with an HMO plan. Another drawback is that you have to get referred by your primary care physician in order to see a specialist. This may not be seen as a disadvantage to some, but for others it could be seen as an unnecessary extra step in the process if you already know what you need. 

Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO)

Pros: This type of plan offers customers much more flexibility than they would have with an HMO with a lot lower rates than one might experience through an indemnity plan. 

Cons: The main drawback with a PPO is that the out-of-pocket costs are generally less predictable.