What Is an Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO)?

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An exclusive provider organization (EPO) is a managed care health plan that covers the cost of services from a network of care providers.

Key Takeaways

  • EPO plans cover services from the providers in your network, but you won’t typically get coverage for care outside of it (except for emergencies).
  • You’ll usually pay more in premiums for an EPO plan than you would for an HMO but less than you would with a PPO or POS.
  • You can get an EPO that doesn’t require you to get a primary care physician or ask for a referral to see a specialist, but not every plan offers this.

How an Exclusive Provider Organization Works

An exclusive provider organization, or EPO, is a managed care health plan that covers the cost of services from a network of care providers. It typically won’t contribute anything toward the cost of out-of-network services unless they’re for emergency care.

You may need to select a primary care physician (PCP) and get referrals from them to see specialists, but they’re not always required. EPOs also tend to offer lower-than-average premiums in exchange for higher deductibles.

An EPO covers your health care costs as long as you use providers within the network. However, like most health insurance plans, you have to pay something out of pocket for covered services. These are all the costs associated with EPO plans:

  • Premiums: These are the monthly or annual payments you must make to maintain your insurance coverage.
  • Deductibles: Your deductible is the amount you must pay for your covered health care services each year before your insurance plan will help with costs. Once you reach your deductible, you’ll usually only have to pay your copayment or coinsurance for covered care.
  • Coinsurance: Coinsurance is a percentage of covered costs you must pay even after meeting your deductible.
  • Copays: These are fixed payments you may have to make for some covered services, even if you’ve met your deductible already.
  • Out-of-pocket maximum: Once you spend this amount on deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance, your EPO pays 100% of covered costs.

Example of an EPO

Let’s say you have an EPO plan with a $2,000 deductible, $0 copay, 80% coinsurance, and a $7,000 out-of-pocket maximum. You incur $10,000 in covered services after a trip to the ER, all of which comes from providers within your network.

You’d pay $2,000 to meet your deductible, leaving you with $8,000 of additional expenses. Of that amount, you’d pay 20% in coinsurance, or $1,600, with the insurer covering the remainder.  In total, you’d pay $3,600. If you spend an additional $3,400 on covered medical services that year, you’d hit your out-of-pocket maximum of $7,000. At this point, the insurer would pay 100% of covered services for the rest of the year.


Monthly insurance premiums don’t count toward your out-of-pocket maximum.

Pros and Cons of an EPO

  • Low monthly premiums

  • Large networks

  • Plans available with no primary care physicians or referrals necessary

  • May have high deductibles

  • No coverage outside of network

Pros Explained

  • Low monthly premiums: EPOs tend to have lower premiums than Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs), though they’re higher than Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) premiums.
  • Large networks: They generally offer a wider selection of care providers than HMOs.
  • Plans available with no PCPs or referrals: You can get an EPO that doesn’t require you to get a primary care physician or ask for referrals when you need to see a specialist, though not every plan offers this.

Cons Explained

  • May have high deductibles: In exchange for lower premiums, you may pay more in annual deductibles with an EPO.
  • No coverage outside of the network: If you receive services from providers that aren’t in your EPO’s network, you may get no assistance from your insurer.

EPO vs. HMO vs. PPO vs. POS

Premiums Low Lower than EPO Higher than EPO Higher than EPO
Out-of-network coverage No No Yes Sometimes
Referrals required Sometimes Yes No Yes


An EPO health plan covers the cost of services from a network of care providers, but it won’t help you pay for any care you get from doctors or hospitals outside of it except in emergencies.

Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)

HMOs tend to have low premiums, deductibles, and copays relative to other plans. Like EPOs, they offer you a network of providers to choose from and don’t cover out-of-network services. However, you’ll have to select a PCP and get referrals before you can see a specialist.

Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)

PPO health plans usually have higher premiums than other types of health insurance policies. However, copays and coinsurance costs for providers in their networks may be low, and they let you see doctors and specialists outside your network without a referral.

Point of Service (POS)

POS health plans offer the flexibility to get service from providers outside your network, but it costs more than in-network care. You have to select a PCP and get referrals to see specialists.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is an exclusive provider organization called "exclusive"?

An EPO is "exclusive" because the coverage is limited to a specific network of providers. The insurance coverage is "exclusive" to those providers.

Why would you choose an EPO?

An EPO may be a good choice for health insurance if you know you can stick to using a specific network of providers. In addition, you might want to choose an EPO if you don't necessarily need a primary care physician (PCP); HMOs offer similar coverage, often at cheaper costs, but you will likely need to have a PCP.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cigna. “What Is the Difference Between an HMO, EPO, and PPO?”

  2. HealthCare.gov. "Out-of-Pocket Costs."

  3. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. "Health Insurance Plan & Network Types: HMOs, PPOs, and More."

  4. Aetna. “HMO, POS, PPO, EPO and HDHP with HSA: What’s the Difference?”

  5. Aetna. “HMO, POS, PPO, EPO and HDHP With HSA: What’s the Difference?”

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