What are HMO Health Plans?

Article Details
  • Written By: Desi C.
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
The longest lightning bolt ever recorded stretched 199.5 miles (321 km) -- nearly the entire length of Oklahoma.  more...

October 18 ,  1867 :  The US bought Alaska from Russia.  more...

An HMO, or health maintenance organization, health plan is a type of health insurance plan in which customers pay a fixed monthly fee, as well as co-payments for the services provided by healthcare professionals and companies. Physicians and other healthcare providers receive a fixed fee per patient from the health insurance company. HMO health plans usually only cover services provided within a network of contracted hospitals, doctors, clinics, therapists, and dentists.

HMO health plans are a popular option in the health insurance industry. Many employers and government entities use HMO plans for the health coverage of employees and people who qualify for certain types of government subsidized health insurance, such as Medicare in the United States. In some American states, more than half of all people covered by health insurance are enrolled in an HMO health plan.

The overall goal of a health maintenance organization is to keep costs low to everyone involved. HMO health plans do not require deductibles, which can save patients a great deal of money. Fixed fees and co-payments, plus monthly fees for the insurance, are generally the only financial requirements of an HMO. Because of their low costs, health maintenance organizations often provide a great deal of business to the health care facilities and businesses they contract with. HMO health plans can be a win-win for patients and healthcare providers when it comes to cost savings.


There are some requirements of HMO plans, however, that can be controversial and unappealing to patients. HMO customers must choose a primary care physician who is part of the HMO network. This can be problematic if a person must switch doctors or specialists, especially for people with ongoing health conditions. Should other healthcare services be needed, such as a visit to a specialist, the primary care physician must make the referral for the patient in order for the service to be covered by the HMO health insurance.

Furthermore, to keep costs low, HMO health plans will often only pay for specific types of procedures, services, and medications. Some patients and physicians therefore find themselves in a position where they need to appeal the decisions of an HMO and ask for additional or increased insurance coverage. This is not uncommon, and it is possible that the HMO will agree to cover additional services if they are deemed medically necessary.

Though health maintenance organizations are known for only covering services within a healthcare network, some exceptions are allowed in emergency situations. Anyone who is enrolled in an HMO should have a clear understanding of what is and is not covered, and in what situations exceptions are allowed. HMO customers are usually given a book or website access that lists all covered services, facilities, hospitals, physicians, and therapists. Out of network services and fees should be defined and listed as well.

Because they are so cost effective, HMO health plans continue to be a growing trend in the health insurance industry. They are also very appealing to governments that fund health insurance for some citizens. Health maintenance organizations are popular in a number of countries, including the United States and Switzerland.


You might also Like


Discuss this Article

Post 3

Poor people have been getting less all of their lives. You become accustomed to it. Even so, the worst part of having an HMO health plan is never being sure whether you are being denied procedures because they are not necessary, or because the insurance company does not want to spend the money on the procedures, and they are more concerned about the bottom line than they are about your heath care.

Post 2

@Feryll - I agree that being forced to change doctors because of an HMO health plan, or for any reason for that matter, can be stressful for anyone. A patient-doctor relationship is built up over time, and a good relationship is essential to a patient getting the best health care possible.

This being said, I still believe that HMO health plans get way too much negative press. No, these types of health plans are not perfect, but the truth of the matter is that most of us cannot afford the perfect health care plan. At least HMO plans give affordable options to people who would otherwise be unable to afford to have health care.

Until someone comes up with a better plan, we need to concentrate on fixing the problems to make these plans better where we can, but we don't need to eliminate them.

Post 1

I constantly hear individuals complaining about their HMO health plans, and this is the first time I have taken the time to see exactly what is involved with being part of an HMO plan. After reading this article, I have to say that the biggest problem I would have switching to an HMO health plan would be having to change my primary physician if he were not a member on my HMO's list of acceptable doctors.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?