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Narrow Networks On The Health Insurance Marketplaces Prevalence Pricing And The Cost Of Network Breadth

Author: Leemore S. Dafny, Igal Hendel, Victoria Marone, Christopher Ody
$15.00

Anecdotal reports and systematic research highlight the prevalence of narrow-network plans on the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance Marketplaces. At the same time, Marketplace premiums in the period 2014–16 were much lower than projected by the Congressional Budget Office in 2009. Using detailed data on the breadth of both hospital and physician networks, we studied the prevalence of narrow networks and quantified the association between network breadth and premiums. Controlling for many potentially confounding factors, we found that a plan with narrow physician and hospital networks was 16 percent cheaper than a plan with broad networks for both, and that narrowing the breadth of just one type of network was associated with a 6–9 percent decrease in premiums. Narrow-network plans also have a sizable impact on federal outlays, as they depress the premium of the second-lowest-price silver plan, to which subsidy amounts are linked. Holding all else constant, we estimate that federal subsidies would have been 10.8 percent higher in 2014 had Marketplaces required all plans to offer broad provider networks. Narrow networks are a promising source of potential savings for other segments of the commercial insurance market.

Anecdotal reports and systematic research highlight the prevalence of narrow-network plans on the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance Marketplaces. At the same time, Marketplace premiums in the period 2014–16 were much lower than projected by the Congressional Budget Office in 2009. Using detailed data on the breadth of both hospital and physician networks, we studied the prevalence of narrow networks and quantified the association between network breadth and premiums. Controlling for many potentially confounding factors, we found that a plan with narrow physician and hospital networks was 16 percent cheaper than a plan with broad networks for both, and that narrowing the breadth of just one type of network was associated with a 6–9 percent decrease in premiums. Narrow-network plans also have a sizable impact on federal outlays, as they depress the premium of the second-lowest-price silver plan, to which subsidy amounts are linked. Holding all else constant, we estimate that federal subsidies would have been 10.8 percent higher in 2014 had Marketplaces required all plans to offer broad provider networks. Narrow networks are a promising source of potential savings for other segments of the commercial insurance market.

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