Indemnity Health Plans vs. PPOs: Key Differences Between Plan Types

When choosing a health insurance plan, two common options are indemnity plans and preferred provider organization (PPO) plans. Understanding how these two plan types differ is important for selecting the right coverage.

Indemnity and PPO plans have distinct features when it comes to provider choice, referrals, costs, and other factors. Here is an overview of the key differences between indemnity plans and PPOs.

How Do Indemnity Health Plans Work?

An indemnity health plan, also called a fee-for-service plan, is a type of insurance that allows members flexibility in choosing any doctor or hospital for care. Some key things to know:

  • No network restrictions – You can see any licensed provider you choose, without a network limiting your options.

  • Pay first, then file claims – You pay the full cost of services upfront, then submit claims to your insurer for reimbursement of covered expenses based on the plan benefits.

  • Multiple cost components – Indemnity plans often have deductibles, copays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums that factor into how much you end up paying.

  • Limited preventive care coverage – These plans tend to have lower coverage for routine preventive services like annual exams compared to PPOs.

  • Higher premiums – Monthly costs for indemnity insurance tend to be higher compared to managed care plans like PPOs.

  • More paperwork – You typically have to handle submitting itemized claims and tracking reimbursements.

Indemnity plans allow freedom to see any provider, but require members to manage more healthcare administration tasks.

How Do PPO Health Plans Work?

A PPO health plan offers services through a specific network of doctors, hospitals, and other providers. Here are some PPO basics:

  • Use in-network providers for lower costs – You pay less out of pocket when using a preferred provider in your PPO’s network.

  • No referrals needed – You can self-refer to see specialists in your network without a primary care provider referral.

  • Pay a portion of costs when services are rendered – You cover a copay or coinsurance at the time of care instead of paying 100% upfront.

  • Higher coverage for preventive services – PPOs typically include routine physicals, screenings, and checkups with low or no cost-sharing.

  • Lower monthly premiums – PPO premium costs are usually cheaper compared to indemnity plans.

  • Less paperwork – Your providers handle claims filing and prior authorizations.

PPOs offer provider network access and convenience, but limit choices compared to indemnity plans.

Comparing Indemnity vs. PPO Plan Features

When evaluating an indemnity plan vs a PPO, there are several key areas where these two plan types differ:

Provider Network

  • Indemnity: No network. You can see any licensed provider nationwide.

  • PPO: Limited network. You get lower costs for in-network providers.


  • Indemnity: No referrals needed. You can self-refer to any specialist.

  • PPO: No referrals required for in-network providers. Out-of-network referrals may be needed.

Choice of Providers

  • Indemnity: Complete choice. You aren’t limited by a network.

  • PPO: Choosing in-network providers costs less. Out-of-network is allowed but costs more.

Preventive Care Coverage

  • Indemnity: Varies. Some plans offer limited wellness care benefits.

  • PPO: Typically robust. Most include free annual physicals, cancer screenings, vaccines, and more.

Upfront Costs

  • Indemnity: You pay 100% when getting care, then file claims for reimbursement.

  • PPO: You pay a copay or coinsurance when you get in-network care.

Monthly Premiums

  • Indemnity: Tend to be higher.

  • PPO: Tend to be lower.

Claims Processing

  • Indemnity: You handle submitting claims forms and paperwork.

  • PPO: Your providers take care of claims filing.

Plan Administration

  • Indemnity: Require more consumer effort to manage.

  • PPO: Offer more convenience and administrative simplicity.

As this overview illustrates, indemnity plans offer unrestricted provider choice while PPOs offer provider network access and lower costs for members. There are trade-offs between flexibility and affordability.

Pros and Cons of Indemnity Health Plans

Indemnity health plans have both advantages and potential drawbacks to consider:


  • Freedom to choose any doctor or hospital. No networks.
  • No referrals needed to see specialists. You can self-refer.
  • Coverage nationwide. No geographical limitations.
  • Plan options range from lower to higher deductibles.


  • Monthly premiums tend to be higher.
  • Preventive care coverage can be limited.
  • You pay 100% of costs upfront, then need to file claims.
  • More paperwork managing claims and reimbursement.
  • Providers may charge higher amounts since they are not in a contracted network.

Indemnity plans offer flexible coverage with the trade-off of higher member administration and costs. They can be a good choice for those who value complete provider choice flexibility and minimal barriers to care access. However, they require diligent management by members to keep costs as low as possible.

Pros and Cons of PPO Health Plans

PPO plans also have certain advantages as well as potential limitations:


  • Lower monthly premium costs compared to indemnity policies.
  • Pay only a copay or coinsurance when you get care.
  • Robust preventive care benefits usually included.
  • Easy to manage since providers handle claims.
  • Large provider network access depending on the PPO.


  • Provider choices limited to network, with higher costs for out-of-network care.
  • Referrals may be required for some specialists if going outside the network.
  • Duplicate services when seeing out-of-network providers may not be covered.
  • Provider network can change annually. Your doctor may drop out of network.

The trade-off with a PPO’s lower monthly costs and convenience factors is that your providers are limited to a contracted network. However, many PPO networks are broad enough that members have adequate provider choices.

Who Should Consider an Indemnity Plan?

Indemnity health plans can make the most sense for these types of healthcare consumers:

  • Those who want complete freedom to choose any healthcare providers nationwide without restrictions.

  • People who are willing to manage the administration hassles of claims paperwork and upfront payment of medical costs in return for flexibility.

  • Individuals who don’t want to be limited to a set provider network, such as people living in remote rural areas.

  • Someone with complex medical needs who wants to handpick specific specialists and hospitals for care.

  • Families with members living in different parts of the country who want one insurance plan that allows them to access any provider.

For those who highly value ultimate personal choice and control when getting healthcare, an indemnity plan may align well with these preferences despite the trade-offs involved.

Who Should Consider a PPO?

On the other hand, a PPO tends to be a better choice for:

  • Those who want lower monthly premiums and overall costs.

  • People who prefer the convenience factor of paying copays rather than upfront costs when getting medical care.

  • Families who want extensive preventive care coverage with little or no out-of-pocket costs.

  • Individuals who don’t mind being limited to a pre-screened quality provider network as long as it is sufficiently comprehensive.

  • Those who want simpler healthcare administration without lots of claims paperwork.

For many consumers, the advantages of lower costs, convenience, and administrative ease make a PPO the preferable health plan option overall for their needs.

Key Takeaways on Indemnity vs. PPO Plans

When weighing an indemnity plan versus a PPO, some key considerations include:

  • Indemnity plans offer ultimate provider choice flexibility while PPOs have provider networks.

  • You handle more medical administrative tasks like claims with indemnity plans versus PPOs.

  • Monthly premium costs tend to be higher for indemnity plans compared to PPOs.

  • PPOs include stronger preventive care benefits than indemnity policies.

  • With indemnity plans you must pay 100% upfront when getting care versus copays with PPOs.

  • Shoppers should weigh their priorities including costs, provider options, and convenience.

For the best health plan decision, compare the pros and cons of indemnity and PPO plans relative to your specific healthcare priorities and needs.

what is the difference between a PPO plan vs an Indemnity plan?


What are the cons of an indemnity plan?

However, they can be expensive, require upfront payments and claims for reimbursement, and not all healthcare providers accept them, limiting options for care. Additionally, Indemnity plans are not ACA compliant or sold through the marketplace.

What is the indemnity health plan?

With an indemnity plan (sometimes called fee-for-service), you can use any medical provider (such as a doctor and hospital). You or the provider sends the bill to the insurance company, which pays part of it. Usually, you have a deductible—such as $200—to pay each year before the insurer starts paying.

What is a dental indemnity plan?

A dental indemnity plan reimburses the insured for dental care expenses minus any deductible or copayment after the insured has been paid by the insurer.

What is the advantage of choosing an indemnity plan over a managed care plan?

One of the most significant benefits of selecting an indemnity insurance plan is that it provides more flexibility in choosing medical providers. Unlike managed care plans, such as HMOs and PPOs, indemnity insurance plans do not have networks of medical providers.

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