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HMOs have long been known for a focus on prevention and wellness. Traditionally, HMOs required that you receive most of your care from one primary care physician who is aware of your total health picture. If you belong to an HMO, usually you must receive all of your medical care from network providers, except in emergencies. HMOs usually have flat co-payments rather than deductibles and co-insurance and no lifetime limits on coverage.
After you enroll in an HMO, you typically will need to select a primary care physician who will be responsible for coordinating all of your care. Primary care physicians may be family practice doctors, internists, pediatricians, obstetricians-gynecologists, or general practitioners.
If you become ill, your primary care doctor will see you first, unless it is an emergency. Your primary care doctor will give you a referral if he or she thinks you need to see a specialist. Usually, your HMO will not provide coverage for a specialist unless you have this referral. In most cases, you must see a specialist who participates in your HMO. Sometimes, in special circumstances, HMO patients may be referred to providers outside the HMO network and still receive coverage.
If you need to be admitted to the hospital and it is not an emergency, you may have to obtain precertification from your plan. In most cases, your physician or hospital will take care of this for you. Non-emergency hospital care may not be covered without precertification. In case of an emergency admission, you or a family member, your doctor, or your hospital will need to contact your plan within a certain timeframe (usually within 48 hours of admission) to obtain written confirmation of coverage for the hospital stay.
Today, some HMOs do not follow this "primary care model." So, if you are considering a traditional HMO, it is important to compare the features and requirements among the various HMO plans that are available to you.