Allowed Amount on a Health Insurance Statement

When you run across the term allowed amount on your health insurance explanation of benefits (EOB), it can cause some confusion. It’s the total amount your health insurance company thinks your healthcare provider should be paid for the care he or she provided. The allowed amount is handled differently if you use an in-network provider than if you use an out-of-network provider.

A woman paying her bills on the couch
JGI / Jamie Grill / Blend Images / Getty Images

Allowed Amount With In-Network Care

If you used a provider that’s in-network with your health plan, the allowed amount is the discounted price your managed care health plan negotiated in advance for that service. Usually, an in-network provider will bill more than the allowed amount, but he or she will only get paid the allowed amount. You don’t have to make up the difference between the allowed amount and the actual amount billed when you use an in-network provider; your provider has to just write off whatever portion of their billed amount that's above the allowed amount. That’s one of the consumer protections that comes with using an in-network provider.

However, this isn’t to say you’ll pay nothing. You pay a portion of the total allowed amount in the form of a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible. Your health insurer pays the rest of the allowed amount, if applicable (Your insurer won't pay anything if you haven't yet met your deductible and the service you've received is being credited towards your deductible. But if the service has a copay instead, the insurer will pay their share after you've paid your copay. And if it's a service for which the deductible is applicable and you've already met your deductible, your insurer will pay some or all of the bill.)

Anything billed above and beyond the allowed amount is not an allowed charge. The healthcare provider won’t get paid for it, as long as they're in your health plan's network. If your EOB has a column for the amount not allowed, this represents the discount the health insurance company negotiated with your provider.

To clarify with an example, maybe your healthcare provider's standard charge for an office visit is $150. But she and your insurance carrier have agreed to a negotiated rate of $110. When you see her for an office visit, her bill will show $150, but the allowed amount will only be $110. She won't get paid the other $40, because it's above the allowed amount. The portion of the $110 allowed amount that you have to pay will depend on the terms of your health plan. If you have a $30 copay for office visits, for example, you'll pay $30 and your insurance plan will pay $80. But if you have a high-deductible health plan that counts everything towards the deductible and you haven't yet met the deductible for the year, you'll pay the full $110.

Allowed Amount With Out-Of-Network Care

If you used an out-of-network provider, the allowed amount is the price your health insurance company has decided is the usual, customary, and reasonable fee for that service. An out-of-network provider can bill any amount he or she chooses and does not have to write off any portion of it. Your health plan doesn’t have a contract with an out-of-network provider, so there’s no negotiated discount. But the amount your health plan pays will be based on the allowed amount, not on the billed amount. And that's assuming your health plan covers out-of-network care at all. Some do not, unless it's an emergency situation.

With an out-of-network provider, your insurer will calculate your coinsurance based on the allowed amount, not the billed amount. You’ll pay any copay, coinsurance, or out-of-network deductible due; your health insurer will pay the rest of the allowed amount (again, that's assuming your plan includes out-of-network coverage; most HMO and EPO plans do not, meaning that you'd have to pay the entire bill yourself if you see an out-of-network provider).

How an out-of-network provider handles the portion of the bill that’s above and beyond the allowed amount can vary. In some cases, especially if you negotiated it in advance, the provider will waive this excess balance. In other cases, the provider will bill you for the difference between the allowed amount and the original charges. This is called balance billing and it can cost you a lot.

(In some circumstances, the balance bill comes as a surprise to the patient, because they were using an in-network hospital and didn't realize that one or more of the healthcare providers (or other healthcare providers) who provided treatment was actually out-of-network. But a federal law takes effect in 2022 that will protect consumers from this type of surprise balance billing in most situations, as well as surprise balance billing arising from emergency medical care.)

Why do health insurers assign an allowed amount for out-of-network care? It’s a mechanism to limit their financial risk. Since health plans can’t control out-of-network costs with pre-negotiated discounts, they have to control them by assigning an upper limit to the bill.

Let’s say your health plan requires that you pay 50% coinsurance for out-of-network care. Without a pre-negotiated contract, an out-of-network provider could charge $100,000 for a simple office visit. If your health plan didn’t assign an allowed amount, it would be obligated to pay $50,000 for an office visit that might normally cost $250. Your health plan protects itself from this scenario by assigning an allowed amount to out-of-network services.

Unfortunately, in protecting itself from unreasonable charges, it shifts the burden of dealing with those unreasonable charges to you. This is a distinct disadvantage of getting out-of-network care and is the reason you should always negotiate the charges for out-of-network care in advance.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fair Health Consumer. In-network and out-of-network care.

  2. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Glossary of health coverage and medical terms.

  3. Kaiser Family Foundation. Surprise Medical Bills: New Protections for Consumers Take Effect in 2022. February 4, 2021.

  4. American Medical Association. Issue brief: Balance billing. 2016.

Additional Reading