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UnitedHealth's New Harmony Plan Offers Lower Costs, but Patients Have to Use the Insurer's Doctors

By David Jagielski - Mar 3, 2020 at 10:00AM

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Its premiums are about 20% less than those for the insurer's standard plans.

Major health insurer UnitedHealth Group (UNH -0.83%) is offering its customers a way to save some money on their premiums -- if they're willing to give up some freedom when it comes to which doctors they can see. Under the new Harmony plan, patients will primarily have to choose doctors whose practices are owned by UnitedHealth's Optum division, which employs nearly 50,000 physicians. A small number of outside providers will also be available within the Harmony network. 

The premiums for Harmony are around 20% lower than what customers would pay for UnitedHealth's similar HMO plans, which offer more choices for patients. The savings are even higher when compared to preferred-provider organizations (PPOs) where members can choose any physician they want. UnitedHealth's PPO premiums are more than five times as high as those for Harmony in Los Angeles, where the plans are currently available.

There is interest in such low-cost plans -- so far, 35,000 people in Southern California have signed up for Harmony. UnitedHealth first started selling them to employers in the second half of 2019, and plans to roll them out in additional markets including Seattle and Texas soon.

Doctor reviewing results with patient.

Image source: Getty Images.

Other health insurers are also trying to develop plans for patients who are looking for inexpensive options that also provide them with sufficient coverage. Both Aetna -- now owned by CVS Health (CVS 2.33%) -- and Blue Cross offer low-cost plans that require members to choose from smaller pools of both hospitals and doctors when seeking care.

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