Many Americans open to narrow doctor networks in Obamacare

Nicole Rivas, an enrollment counselor, helps Josue Ontiveros sign up for health insurance under Covered California on Feb. 24 at Los Angeles Trade Technical College.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

WASHINGTON -- Most Americans would rather pay more for a health insurance plan that allows them to get treatment from a wide range of doctors and hospitals, a new survey finds.

But in a finding that could prove important for President Obama’s health law, working-age consumers who don’t get health benefits through an employer favor health plans with narrower provider networks that cost less.

These are the consumers that the Obama administration is hoping will sign up for coverage this year on the new online marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.


Many health plans offered by insurers on these marketplaces feature what are called narrow networks that limit which hospitals and physicians patients can see. These plans also typically charge lower premiums.

The network limits have drawn criticism from many opponents of the health law, commonly known as Obamacare. Even some consumer advocates who support the law have raised concerns about narrow networks.

But the new national survey from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that many consumers may be willing to trade access to a wide range of medical providers for lower premiums.

In the poll, 54% of those between the ages of 18 and 64 who are uninsured or who buy health coverage on their own said they would rather have a health plan that costs less, even if it has a limited range of doctors and hospitals; 35% said they favored a costlier health plan with a wider network.

By contrast, 55% of those polled in the same age range who have employer-sponsored health coverage said they favored a health plan that costs more but has a wider provider network, and just 34% were willing to trade a more limited network for lower premiums.

The preference for lower-cost plans with more restricted access to medical providers was particularly pronounced among younger and lower-income consumers, the survey found.


The new Kaiser poll also contained more worrisome findings for Obama’s health law.

Although just 31% said they wanted to repeal the law, the legislation remains unpopular, with 47% viewing the law unfavorably, compared with just 35% who view it favorably.

The law is even more unpopular with uninsured Americans, the very people the law is supposed to help by offering guaranteed coverage.

Just 22% of the uninsured polled have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act, compared with 56% who view the law unfavorably.

Nearly half of Americans polled also blame the law in part for rising healthcare costs, although the leading culprits they identified for rising costs were high hospital prices, waste and fraud.

Twitter: @NoamLevey