Although plans sold on health insurance exchanges have fewer providers in-network than off-exchange plans, the America's Health Insurance Plans trade group says that consumers prefer less expensive plans over ones with more provider options.
"Consumers who are shopping on the exchanges are increasingly price sensitive," AHIP spokeswoman Clare Krusing told CNBC. "Particularly for those individuals who are looking for more affordable premiums, a tailored network of providers is one tool that plans use to keep coverage affordable."
A recent analysis from Avalere Health found that exchange plans feature an average of 34 percent fewer providers in their networks. What's more, the gap widens for cancer and cardiac specialists as exchange plans had on average 42 percent fewer oncology and cardiology specialists than non-exchange plans.
When CNBC reached out to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about the Avalere analysis, CMS spokesman Aaron Albright referred to several surveys that have found exchange consumers are happy and satisfied with their plans.
In a recent Commonwealth Fund survey, for example, 86 percent of consumers enrolled in an exchange plans or Medicaid said they were either "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with their coverage, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. And a J.D. Power survey found that consumers enrolled in an exchange plans are more satisfied with their coverage than consumers with employer-sponsored plans.
Meanwhile, Brian Hoyt, managing director at Berkeley Research Group, told CNBC that Avalere's analysis "reflects the pressures that plans are finding to contract with providers that would perhaps accept payments they're able to provide under the exchange plans."