The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's nudge toward narrow health care provider networks caused a minor uproar among both providers and consumers. The providers — mostly hospitals — who got left out of the networks were, understandably upset. But with consumers, the concern was focused on whether a narrow network would offer the same quality of services one received from broader networks.

A narrow look at a narrow network's experience in Massachusetts may offer some clues about the outcomes to be expected from the shift to narrow networks. Two Massachusetts academic researchers studied a pre-PPACA shift to narrow networks in the Bay State, and reported two major findings: lots of money was saved on health care following the switch, and the quality of care seemed to be just about the same as with the broader network.

The researchers — Jonathan Gruber and Robin McKnight — did their work under auspices of the National Bureau of Economic Research. They were presented with a case study: In 2011, the state offered covered employees three premium-free months of coverage if they'd switch to a narrow network. The researchers were then able to compare the experiences of those who switched to their previous broad-network experience, and to the experiences of those employees who didn't switch. Essentially, they looked at three years of data: 2010, prior to the switch; 2011, the year of the switch; and 2012, the second year into it.

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.