Purpose Health insurers offer plans covering a narrow subset of providers in an attempt to lower premiums and compete for consumers. However, narrow networks may limit access to high-quality providers, particularly those caring for patients with cancer. Methods We examined provider networks offered on the 2014 individual health insurance exchanges, assessing oncologist supply and network participation in areas that do and do not contain one of 69 National Cancer Institute (NCI)–Designated Cancer Centers. We characterized a network’s inclusion of oncologists affiliated with NCI-Designated Cancer Centers relative to oncologists excluded from the network within the same region and assessed the relationship between this relative inclusion and each network’s breadth. We repeated these analyses among networks offered in the same regions as the subset of 27 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers identified as National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Cancer Centers. Results In regions containing NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, there were 13.7 oncologists per 100,000 residents and 4.9 (standard deviation [SD], 2.8) networks covering a mean of 39.4% (SD, 26.2%) of those oncologists, compared with 8.8 oncologists per 100,000 residents and 3.2 (SD, 2.1) networks covering on average 49.9% (SD, 26.8%) of the area’s oncologists (P, .001 for all comparisons). There was a strongly significant correlation (r = 0.4; P, .001) between a network’s breadth and its relative inclusion of oncologists associated with NCI-Designated Cancer Centers; this relationship held when considering only affiliation with NCCN Cancer Centers. Conclusion Narrower provider networks are more likely to exclude oncologists affiliated with NCI-Designated or NCCN Cancer Centers. Health insurers, state regulators, and federal lawmakers should offer ways for consumers to learn whether providers of cancer care with particular affiliations are in or out of narrow provider networks.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research