HMO vs PPO Which is Better?

HMO vs PPO Which is Better?

HMO vs PPO Which is better in regards to health insurance, Medicare Advantage Plans and dental insurance

Insurance has changed a lot over the last 20 years, and there is no better example than the way we define and use provider networks. When you are looking at insurance plans, it’s important to compare HMO vs PPO. Which is better for you?

We are here to clear up the confusion, and quickly answer the most frequently asked questions in regards to what is HMO and PPO insurance, how the plans work, and where you will find HMO and PPO insurance plans.

If you are a Medicare user, you will run into HMO vs PPO in regards to choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan. You can learn more about Medicare Advantage Plans here.

What is an HMO?

To start, what is HMO health insurance? A HMO is a network of health care providers, set-up by a health insurance company, to offer services and benefits to its customers. (More at

What does HMO stand for? Health Maintenance Organization

How does an HMO work?

  • To start, when you are a beneficiary/member of an HMO, you have access to a specific set of healthcare providers in a specified geographical area. (For example, a city, counties or defined state(s).) These providers include doctors, healthcare professionals, specialists and hospitals.
  • You must use the HMO’s contracted providers to have your care paid for by your insurance plan. Moreover, if you go outside the plan for care, you will often have to pay the full cost of your care.
  • You can only go outside of your plan’s provider list in the case of an emergency.
  • With most HMO’s you need to have a Primary Care Physician (called a PCP). Your PCP takes care of your general health care and then refers you to specialists as needed.
  • So then, as a member of an HMO, if you need to see a specialist, your PCP with often have to refer you, to use one. However, in some states, and with some plans, the insurance companies have take away this requirement. As a result, it is important to check your specific plan’s requirements for seeing a specialist.
  • Finally, HMO’s are often concerned about prevention and keeping their member’s as healthy as possible to keep everyone’s costs down. For this reason, health maintenance organizations will often provide prevention based benefits and services to encourage safe and healthy behaviors among their members.

What is a PPO?

So, in regards to insurance, what is a PPO? A PPO is a type of insurance plan that uses a defined network of medical providers to meet your health care needs.

You pay a contracted rate (less than full price) to see network providers. However, unlike an HMO, with a PPO you can use doctors, clinics and hospitals outside the network at a higher cost. (More at

What does PPO stand for? Preferred Provider Organization.

How Does a PPO Work?

  • First, with a PPO, you still have a network of providers to use that offer contracted prices to members of the PPO.
  • In contrast, you have more flexibility to go outside the network if needed to use uncontracted providers. You will most likely have to pay a higher percentage of the costs to use these providers, but the insurance companies will still pay something.
  • You can use any provider when the circumstance is deemed an emergency.
  • With most PPO’s, you do not have to have a referral to see a specialist.

What is the Difference Between HMO and PPO Insurance Plans

Both HMO’s and PPO’s have contracted networks of healthcare providers, clinics and hospitals where they will pay for some or all of your care. However, there are differences to consider:

  • First, HMO’s and PPO’s treat their out of network costs differently.
    • With an HMO, if you go “out-of-network” to see a provider, they may not cover any of your costs. Unless, it is an emergency situation.
    • With a PPO, the plan will most likely cover “out-of-network” provider/hospital visits, but at a lower percentage rate than their “in-network” providers/hospitals.
  • Second, the networks treat visits to healthcare specialists differently.
    • With an HMO, you will often need a referral to see a specialist.
    • With a PPO, you can most often just choose a specialist from the network provider list and make an appointment to see them without a referral.
  • Third, the PCP is usually the person making referrals in an HMO network. As a result,
    • The HMO’s often require having a primary care physician (PCP) on file for its members.
    • While the PPO’s usually do not have a requirement to name a PCP.

So, HMO vs PPO Which is Better?

After reading about the differences between HMO’s and PPO’s, it may seem like the PPO sounds hands down better than the HMO. Regarding, its freedom to see both in-network and out-of-network providers, and its options to see specialists without a referral, it does seem more flexible.

So then, why do people like HMO’s as well as PPO’s, and which one is right for you?

  • To start, HMO’s have changed a lot over the last years. Their networks have become more robust and their requirements less strict. In certain geographical areas, the HMO might include all the major hospital systems and the majority of providers. As a result, it may not matter to a person if they have a PPO or HMO, in regards to providers available.
  • Second, in some states, it is not necessary to get a provider referral to see a specialist in an HMO’s network. State laws often dictate how HMO’s work in this capacity, so it is important to learn how your area’s plans work.
  • Third, their may be a cost difference paid by members between an insurance company’s HMO and PPO plans. These costs include monthly premiums, max out of pocket costs, deductibles, and co-pays/co-insurances. When picking a plan, it often comes down to what is the more affordable option.
  • Finally, since HMO’s are often more focused on the wellness of their members, they might have other prevention benefits and services available to their members. PPO’s can sometimes have these services too, you will just need to do your homework to see what is included when shopping for a plan.

Going Deeper: HMO vs PPO Which is Better FAQ’s.

For those of you that have further questions, here are the most asked questions in regards to HMO and PPO insurance.

What does HMO POS mean? / What is HMO POS Medicare Advantage?

An HMO POS is a type of HMO network that allows more flexibility in seeing providers outside of the specified HMO provider list. POS stands for Point of Service.

According to, with an HMO POS, you will still need to choose a PCP (primary care physician) and they will still make specialist referrals for you. However, with a POS, if they want to refer you to a specialist outside of the HMO network, they can do so with the POS designation. Keep in mind, specialists and providers outside of the HMO network may still have higher out-of-pocket costs than in-network providers.

In a HMO POS Medicare Advantage Plan, you also have this ability to use providers who are “out-of-network,” but they may incur an increased cost.

What is Medicare PPO? / What is Medicare HMO?

PPO’s and HMO’s come into play in Medicare when you are using Medicare Part C – aka Medicare Advantage Plans.

Medicare Advantage (MA & MAPD) Plans are alternative plans offered by private insurance companies to take the place of Original Medicare. They often include drug coverage or Part D coverage (MAPD plans). They are approved by the Federal Government and cover everything that Original Medicare covers. In addition, they often offer benefits and services beyond what Medicare offers such as dental, vision and hearing benefits.

So then, what is a Medicare Advantage PPO plan or HMO plan?

What is Medicare Advantage?

Medicare Advantage plans are often HMO, PPO, or PFFS plans. (Additionally, they have special plans set up for people with special needs.) When you are choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan, you will need to consider everything we discussed about HMO’s and PPO’s as they will apply to these private insurance plans and how they set-up their provider networks.

Ok, then what is a PFFS Plan?

PFFS is a Private Fee-for-Service Plan. These plans also have networks that include a list of providers that have agreed to accept the plan. Moreover, you can see other providers, not on the list, as long as they agree to the plan’s terms and conditions and bill the plan directly. Original Medicare is an example of a PFFS plan.

What is HMO Medicaid?

Medicaid is provided to its recipients at a state level. Each state has to decide how to manage their Medicaid programs. These “managed care” options include choosing an insurance administrator to deliver healthcare services to Medicaid beneficiaries in a way that will “manage cost, utilization, and quality.” Often times the contracted insurance company will use an HMO model to structure their network of providers.

medicare and medicaid difference guide

In addition, if you are a “Dual Eligible” beneficiary – meaning that you qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare – then you have the option of finding a private insurer to manage your health care insurance. Each state has DSNP Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) providers that offer plans to dual eligible beneficiaries to help them manage the care between Medicare and Medicaid. These plans can also be HMOs or PPOs.

What is an EPO?

An EPO is an Exclusive Provider Organization. According to, “EPOs generally limit coverage to care from providers in
the EPO’s network (except in an emergency).”

What is PPO Dental Insurance? / What is HMO Dental Insurance?

Dental Insurance Carriers (aka Insurance Companies) set-up their provider networks similar to how medical companies set-up their networks. They have both DHMO and DPPO plans.

Just like in medical insurance, both DPPO’s and DHMO’s have provider networks, but HMO’s will typically only pay for services rendered by providers in the network. In addition, PPO’s will pay more of the costs for services provided by network providers, but will pay some percentage of costs out-of-network. For this reason, Dental HMO’s are usually less expensive than PPOs.

What is Better HMO or PPO Dental Insurance?

There are other differences between Dental PPO’s and HMO’s including deductible costs, and co-pays/co-insurances. When you are looking at dental plans in your area, you will need to decide what type of plan most affordably meets your dental care needs.

Sometimes this will be an DHMO and other times, this will be a DPPO, so compare costs, provider networks and types of dental services covered before buying a policy. Here is a good article for more detail on dental insurance network types to help you decide what is best for you.

What is Preferred Provider Organization?

Also known as a PPO, a Preferred Provider Organization is a type of insurance plan that provides a network of healthcare providers, offices and hospitals for its members to use at contracted costs. In addition, it provides the flexibility to use providers outside of its networks if needed, but at a higher cost to the members.

Then, what does preferred provider mean?

Preferred provider means that a particular doctor, specialist, clinic, hospital or other healthcare professional or facility is a part of your insurance provider’s network. They will offer a contracted (most likely discounted) rate for you to use their services while on your PPO insurance plan.

What is the largest PPO network?

The largest PPO Network in the United States is MultiPlan.

What is MultiPlan PPO?

Multiplan is not a “type” of healthcare insurance. They are a third party company that helps insurance companies “manage the cost of care, improve their competitiveness and inspire positive change.” You do not have a Multiplan PPO, you have a PPO that uses Multiplan.

What is a Regional PPO?

We often hear the questions, “what is a Regional PPO?” and “what is a Regional PPO Medicare Advantage Plan?” Regional just refers to the service area for the PPO. Members will have access to providers in the PPO’s specified region.

What is Health Maintenance?

“Health Maintenance” refers to a system of prevention. In insurance terms, it refers to an insurance network plan with a focus on keeping medical costs down by keeping members healthy with lower cost preventative care options.

The thought is “an ounce of prevention” will lead to significant cost savings on unused healthcare dollars down the road.

So then, what are the benefits for providers who use HMO model?

Providers who are a part of the HMO model have benefits of being a part of a network that pays them based on a contracted fee. Each network will arrange the contracts differently. However, the providers will know that they have access to the insurance carrier’s pool of members to service for their healthcare needs.

HMO vs PPO Which is Better Summary

In conclusion, whether a PPO or a HMO is “better” all depends on your needs and the plans available in your area.

If we missed any questions in “HMO vs PPO Which is Better” you may have, please drop us a note in the comments and we will do the best to answer them!

All the best. Carly and the MLH Team

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