Out-of-Network Coverage under ACA Health Plans: What You Need to Know

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has transformed the health insurance landscape in the United States, providing millions of Americans with access to quality and affordable health care. However, understanding the nuances of ACA health plans can be complex. One common misconception is the coverage of out-of-network services.

In this blog, we will delve into this topic and provide valuable insights to help you navigate the complexities of ACA health insurance and make informed decisions about your coverage.

Understanding Out-of-Network Coverage

ACA health plans generally fall into two categories:

– Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs): PPOs provide coverage for both in-network and out-of-network providers. However, out-of-network services are typically subject to higher cost-sharing (e.g., deductibles, coinsurance, copays).

– Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs): HMOs typically only cover services provided by in-network providers. Out-of-network services are generally not covered, unless in an emergency or as a referral from an in-network provider.

Emergency Care Coverage

The ACA requires all health plans to cover emergency care, regardless of whether the providers or facilities are in-network or out-of-network. Emergency care includes services necessary to stabilize a patient’s condition and prevent serious harm or death. If you receive emergency care out-of-network, your health plan must cover the reasonable and customary charges. However, you may be responsible for a copayment or deductible.

Non-Emergency Care Coverage

For non-emergency care, ACA health plans generally do not cover out-of-network services. This means that if you receive non-emergency care from an out-of-network provider, you will be responsible for the full cost of the services.

Exceptions to Out-of-Network Coverage Rules

There are a few exceptions to the out-of-network coverage rules under the ACA:

– Emergencies: As mentioned earlier, all health plans must cover emergency care, regardless of network status.

– Surprise Medical Billing: The No Surprises Act, which became effective in 2022, prohibits balance billing for out-of-network emergency services, certain surprise medical bills, and services received at in-network facilities by out-of-network providers.

– Referrals: Some HMOs may allow coverage for out-of-network services if referred by an in-network provider.

Choosing a Health Plan

When selecting an ACA health plan, it is crucial to consider your potential healthcare needs and preferences. If you frequently travel out-of-state or have specific healthcare providers you prefer, a PPO may be a better option for you, as it provides greater flexibility and coverage for out-of-network services. If you are on a budget or prefer to stay within a network of providers, an HMO may be more cost-effective.


Understanding out-of-network coverage under ACA health plans is essential for making informed healthcare decisions. By being aware of the coverage options and exceptions, you can choose the plan that best aligns with your needs and financial circumstances. If you have any questions or concerns about your health insurance coverage, it is recommended to contact a licensed insurance agent or consult with your health plan provider directly.

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