What Is EPO Insurance?

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Updated: May 22, 2024

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An EPO, or Exclusive Provider Organization, offers a managed health care plan with a specific network. EPOs balance the flexibility of Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) and the cost-effective structure of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs).

EPO health plans do not require you to seek referrals to see a specialist, but you must choose specialists within the EPO network.

If you're looking for a health plan with some flexibility but a lower premium than a PPO, you should consider an EPO.

Key Takeaways

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EPO health insurance operates within a specific network of health care providers. Out-of-network care is typically only covered in emergencies.

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EPOs involve cost-sharing through deductibles, copayments, and co-insurance and have generally lower premiums than PPOs.

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EPOs offer flexibility with no mandatory primary care physician and direct access to specialists without referrals, but the specialists need to be within the EPO’s network.

What Is EPO Health Insurance?

Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO) health insurance is a type of managed care plan that offers health care coverage for services obtained within a predefined network of health care providers.

Unlike HMO and POS health plans, EPO plans typically do not require members to choose a primary care physician and allow policyholders to consult with specialists without a referral.

A key feature of EPO health insurance is the network-based structure, where services rendered outside the established network are generally not covered except in emergencies.

EPOs often involve out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, which represent the initial amount policyholders must pay before the plan covers certain health care expenses. Additionally, EPO plans include copayments — fixed amounts paid at the time of service — and co-insurance — the percentage of health care costs paid by the insured after meeting the deductible.

EPO Insurance Pros and Cons

Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO) insurance plans offer lower premiums and fewer restrictions than other plan types. However, they have drawbacks such as limited out-of-network coverage and potentially high out-of-pocket costs. Following are some of the pros and cons:

Benefits of EPO Insurance

  • Mid-Level Premium Costs: While EPO premiums are higher than HMO plans, they present a more economical choice than PPO options.
  • No Referral Hassles: Enjoy the convenience of accessing specialty care without referrals, provided you stick to in-network providers and fulfill any required prior authorizations.
  • No PCP Requirement: EPOs don't require you to select a Primary Care Provider (PCP) to manage your health care.

Downsides of EPO Insurance

  • Limited Out-of-Network Coverage: Out-of-network health care providers aren't covered by EPO plans, except in emergencies. Opting for services outside the network means you will be responsible for the full cost, so it's best to stick to in-network care when possible.
  • Potential for Higher Out-of-Pocket Expenses: While EPO premiums may be economical, deductibles and co-insurance can impact overall out-of-pocket expenses. In comparison, HMO and POS plans generally simplify costs by excluding deductibles. The specific costs vary depending on the selected plan and tier.

Comparing Different Health Plan Types

Comparing health insurance plans involves understanding their structures. For instance, EPOs balance cost and flexibility, covering only in-network care. POS plans blend features of PPO and HMO plans. Each plan type caters to specific needs, budget constraints and preferences. Familiarizing yourself with these distinctions will help you choose the right insurance plan for you.

EPO vs. HMO Plans

HMOs and EPOs differ primarily in premium costs, network coverage and referral policies.

HMOs generally require referrals for specialist visits, while EPOs provide more flexibility, allowing members to access specialists directly without referrals in most cases. Both emphasize in-network care to reduce costs and only over out-of-network care in emergencies, but EPOs generally have larger provider networks, making it easier to find care. HMOs often have lower premiums due to their strict network approach, making them an economical choice.

EPO vs. PPO Plans

Deciding between a PPO and EPO boils down to flexibility and cost. PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) offer extensive flexibility in choosing health care providers, in or out of the network, which results in higher premiums. PPOs offer more coverage for in-network than out-of-network care but generally still provide some coverage for out-of-network services.

In contrast, EPOs (Exclusive Provider Organizations) prioritize in-network coverage, limiting or excluding out-of-network benefits. EPOs generally have lower premiums. Both plans eliminate the need for a primary care provider and referrals for specialists.

The decision hinges on individual preferences and budget considerations. An EPO may save money for those with minimal health needs, while a PPO suits families with diverse medical conditions.

EPO vs. POS Plans

POS plans require referrals for specialists like HMOs. EPO plans, on the other hand, do not require referrals, providing more autonomy. While both feature lower premiums than PPOs, EPOs usually have larger networks than POS plans.

Another key difference is the in-network vs. out-of-network coverage — EPOs only cover out-of-network care in emergencies. In contrast, POS plans permit out-of-network care, mirroring PPO flexibility but with more limited coverage.

EPO vs. HSA Plans

An HSA, or Health Savings Account, is not technically a type of insurance plan but a feature of certain plans. An HSA allows you to save pre-tax money to pay for certain health-related expenses. Various types of plans may be HSA-eligible, including EPOs, PPOs and HMOs, and they usually include a high deductible. Choosing an HSA-eligible plan depends largely on whether the tax advantages outweigh the high deductible and can vary based on your personal situation.

Choosing an EPO Plan

Choosing an EPO plan can be wise if you prioritize cost efficiency. EPOs generally have lower premiums than PPOs, providing savings and a broad range of covered services. They suit those comfortable with in-network providers and don't require a primary care provider or referrals.

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Confirm that your preferred health care providers are in network to maximize benefits and minimize out-of-pocket costs.

How EPO Insurance Works

EPO insurance covers your medical expenses when you use health care providers within its network. It doesn't mandate a primary care physician or referrals to see specialists. Here are the main features of EPOs:


Your health insurer covers most of your in-network medical costs with an EPO plan. You'll handle the rest, including the deductible, copays for doctor visits and prescriptions and co-insurance (depending on your plan).

While specific cost-sharing structures can vary by EPO, this plan type is generally more budget-friendly than PPOs since EPOs limit you to in-network providers.

In-Network Providers

Every EPO has a designated network of health care providers, offering a wide range of services from specialists to pharmacies. It's important to use in-network providers to ensure coverage. Going out of network might lead to substantial out-of-pocket expenses as you will be responsible for the entire bill, except for emergencies.

Exceptions to In-Network Rule


1. Unavailable In-Network Specialists: When an in-network provider for a required specialty service is unavailable, EPOs allow policyholders to pre-arrange out-of-network care.

2. Ongoing Specialty Treatment: For those undergoing complex specialty treatments, EPOs may permit the completion of ongoing treatment with the current provider, subject to a case-by-case evaluation.

3. Emergencies: Immediate care at the nearest ER is covered, regardless of network affiliation. However, subsequent hospitalization may require towards in-network facilities. The Affordable Care Act mandates coverage for emergency care, even at out-of-network facilities.

Primary Care Physician (PCP)

While having a Primary Care Physician (PCP) is advisable, EPOs typically don't mandate one. However, specific plan details may differ, emphasizing the importance of understanding individual plan requirements.


EPOs generally empower individuals to choose specialists directly without needing a referral from a primary care provider. However, you must choose specialists within the EPO's network or get pre-authorization from the EPO to review and approve your specialist visit.

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Having a PCP is advantageous as they are often familiar with the specialists in your community, and most specialists have special interests within their specialty. For instance, some dermatologists may specialize in acne treatment, while others focus on skin cancer.

Pre-Authorization for Costly Services

EPOs often mandate pre-authorization for expensive procedures such as MRI and CT scans, costly prescription drugs, surgeries, hospitalizations and certain medical equipment.

Familiarity with the plan's Summary of Benefits and Coverage is important to ensure the medical necessity exists and control costs. While health care providers may assist in determining this, the ultimate responsibility lies with the policyholder.

Hassle-Free Claims Process

EPOs simplify the claims process. With all care provided in network, the health care providers automatically bill the EPO health plan for any medical services received by the member. Policyholders will then receive a bill for the remaining balance, which may include the deductible, copays and co-insurance.

About Mark Fitzpatrick

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Mark Fitzpatrick has analyzed the property and casualty insurance market for over five years, conducting original research and creating personalized content for every kind of buyer. Currently, he leads P&C insurance content production at MoneyGeek. Fitzpatrick has been quoted in several insurance-related publications, including CNBC, NBC News and Mashable.

Fitzpatrick earned a master’s degree in economics and international relations from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College. He is passionate about using his knowledge of economics and insurance to bring transparency around financial topics and help others feel confident in their money moves.