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EPO vs. PPO — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Fiza Rafique — Published on February 14, 2024
EPO (Exclusive Provider Organization) plans require members to use network providers, no outside coverage. PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) plans offer more flexibility, including out-of-network care.
EPO vs. PPO — What's the Difference?

Difference Between EPO and PPO


Key Differences

EPO (Exclusive Provider Organization) and PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) are two types of health insurance plans that cater to different needs and preferences of individuals seeking medical coverage. EPO plans offer a network of providers that members are required to use for their healthcare needs. Unlike PPO plans, EPOs typically do not cover care received from out-of-network providers, except in emergency situations. This can make EPO plans more affordable but less flexible than PPOs.
PPO plans, on the other hand, provide a network of preferred providers while also offering the flexibility to seek care outside of this network. While out-of-network care is more costly under a PPO plan compared to in-network services, it is still partially covered, offering a greater choice of providers to policyholders. This flexibility makes PPO plans more appealing to those who may require or desire care from specialists outside of the primary network.
The choice between an EPO and a PPO plan often comes down to the individual's healthcare needs and financial situation. For those who do not mind limiting their care to a specific network of providers in exchange for potentially lower premiums, an EPO might be the better option. Conversely, individuals who value the ability to choose their healthcare providers, even if it means paying higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs, may prefer a PPO plan.
When considering an EPO or PPO, it’s important to evaluate the network size, the costs associated with care (including premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket maximums), and whether your preferred healthcare providers and hospitals are in-network. Understanding these aspects can help individuals make an informed decision that best suits their health and financial needs.
In summary, EPO plans offer a cost-effective solution with the caveat of requiring members to stick to their network for all non-emergency care, while PPO plans offer greater flexibility and provider choice at a higher cost. The decision between the two should be based on individual healthcare needs, preferences for provider choice, and financial considerations.

Comparison Chart

Network Flexibility

Must use in-network providers
Can use out-of-network providers

Coverage for Out-of-Network Care

Generally not covered, except emergencies
Covered, but at a higher cost


Generally lower
Generally higher

Referrals Required

Usually not required
Not required

Best for Individuals Who...

Prefer lower premiums and don't need out-of-network care
Want flexibility in choosing providers

Compare with Definitions


Aimed at individuals prioritizing cost over provider flexibility.
An EPO plan was the best choice for my budget-conscious family.


A health plan offering both in-network and out-of-network coverage.
My PPO plan lets me visit specialists outside the network, though it costs a bit more.


Offers a select network of doctors and hospitals.
Finding a specialist was easy with my EPO's comprehensive network.


Does not usually require referrals to see specialists.
With my PPO, I can see any specialist without needing a referral from my primary care doctor.


A health plan requiring use of in-network providers.
I chose an EPO plan to keep my monthly premiums low.


Suitable for those who value choice and flexibility in their healthcare.
As someone who travels often, a PPO plan ensures I can receive care anywhere.


Generally does not require referrals for specialists.
I didn't need a referral to see a dermatologist under my EPO plan.


Provides more flexibility in choosing healthcare providers.
Choosing a PPO was important for me to keep seeing my longtime family doctor who's out-of-network.


Does not cover out-of-network care except in emergencies.
My EPO plan covered my emergency surgery, even though it was at a non-network hospital.


Generally comes with higher premiums than EPO plans.
I don't mind paying higher premiums for the provider flexibility my PPO offers.

Common Curiosities

Can I see any doctor with a PPO plan?

Yes, but seeing out-of-network doctors will cost more than in-network providers.

What's the main difference between EPO and PPO plans?

EPOs restrict you to their network except for emergencies, while PPOs cover out-of-network care at a higher cost.

Are EPO plans cheaper than PPO plans?

Yes, EPO plans typically have lower monthly premiums than PPO plans.

Which plan is better for someone who travels frequently?

A PPO plan is better for frequent travelers due to its broader coverage.

Do I need a referral to see a specialist with an EPO plan?

Generally, no, EPO plans do not require referrals for specialists.

Are prescriptions covered differently in EPO and PPO plans?

Coverage can vary, but both plans usually have formularies that list covered medications.

Which plan should I choose if I have a preferred doctor who's out-of-network?

A PPO plan may be more suitable to cover some costs for out-of-network care.

What happens if I go out-of-network with an EPO plan?

You will likely have to pay the full cost of care, except in emergencies.

How do I know if my doctor is in-network for an EPO or PPO plan?

You can check the insurance company’s website or call their customer service.

How do deductibles compare between EPO and PPO plans?

Deductibles vary by plan, but PPOs may have higher deductibles, especially for out-of-network services.

Can I switch from an EPO to a PPO during open enrollment?

Yes, you can switch plans during open enrollment periods.

Is it easier to manage healthcare costs with an EPO or PPO plan?

EPO plans can be easier to manage due to their predictable in-network rates.

Which is better for someone with chronic health conditions?

It depends on your healthcare providers’ network status and your financial situation.

Are all hospitals covered under PPO and EPO plans?

Coverage depends on whether the hospital is in-network for your specific plan.

Do EPO and PPO plans cover emergency services outside the network?

Yes, both typically cover emergency services regardless of the network.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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