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Appointment Availability Access Standards for Primary Care-Type Providers, ObGyns and Specialists

Administrative Policy:
Appointment Availability Access Standards for Primary Care-Type Providers, ObGyns and Specialists

Effective Date:
June 2, 2017

Last Revised Date:
December 6, 2019

Practitioners that participate in Horizon BCBSNJ's Managed Care Network and/or PPO Network and provide care to fully insured and ASO members.

  • Primary care-type providers (e.g., family practitioners, internists and pediatricians)
  • Ob/Gyns
  • Specialists credentialed in: Cardiology, Dermatology, Endocrinology, Gastroenterology, General Surgery, Neurology, Oncology, Ophthalmology, Optometry, Orthopedic Surgery, and Pulmonology

For Medicare Advantage members, only internists and family practitioners may serve as primary care physicians.

To establish access standards for primary care-type practitioners, Ob/Gyns and specialists, define processes for evaluating a random sample of practices annually and for monitoring practices that did not meet our standards.

To define and identify high-volume and high-impact specialties.

High-Volume Specialties – Specialties that are expected to treat a large number of members within a geographic area.

High-Impact Specialties – Specialties that treat conditions that are high risk for mortality and morbidity or where treatment requires significant resources.

Practitioner Type



Family Practice



Internal Medicine





















General Surgery















Orthopedic Surgery






Appointment Availability Standards for Offering First Available Appointment:

Routine physical exam:
including annual health assessments, as well as routine gynecological physical exams for new and established patients.

Except as set forth below, the physician shall offer Horizon BCBSNJ members a scheduled appointment as soon as possible, but not to exceed four (4) months of the request.

Practitioner shall offer a State Health Benefits Program/School Employees’ Health Benefits Program member a scheduled appointment as soon as possible, but not to exceed 8 weeks of the request.

Horizon BCBSNJ recognizes that CMS recommends a stricter guideline for preventive care and will monitor response rates to ensure that the majority of our physicians offer an appointment within a 30 day time period.

If we determine that wait times for routine physical exams are exceeding the guidelines, a barrier analysis will be conducted and an action plan will be implemented to improve the wait time.

Routine care:
including any condition or illness that does not require urgent attention or is not life-threatening, as well as routine gynecological care.

The physician shall offer the member a scheduled appointment as soon as possible, but not to exceed two (2) weeks of the request.

Urgent care:
including medically necessary care for an unexpected illness or injury.

The physician shall offer the member a scheduled appointment within twenty-four (24) hours of the request.

Emergent care:
including care for a medical condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity including, but not limited to, severe pain; psychiatric disturbances and/or symptoms of substance abuse such that a prudent layperson, who possesses an average knowledge of health and medicine, could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in placing the health of the individual (or, with the respect to a pregnant woman, the health of the woman or her unborn child) in serious jeopardy; serious impairment to bodily functions or serious dysfunction of a bodily organ or part.

The physician shall respond to the member’s call immediately and advise the best course of action. This may include sending the member to an emergency facility.

After-hours care:
The hours before or after a practitioner’s posted office hours.

The Physician shall have a mechanism to respond to the members call for urgent or emergent care that ensures calls in these circumstances are returned within thirty (30) minutes.

Office waiting time:
The time a member waits to see a practitioner from his/her scheduled appointment time (assuming the member is not late).

Horizon BCBSNJ Medicare Advantage members shall wait no more than fifteen (15) minutes from a scheduled appointment time to see a practitioner.

Other Horizon BCBSNJ members shall wait no more than thirty (30) minutes from a scheduled appointment time to see a practitioner.

If the waiting time is expected to exceed the above-noted time periods, the office shall offer the member the choice of rescheduling his /her appointment or continuing to wait.

If we determine that a practice is not in compliance with the above-noted wait time standards, a barrier analysis will be conducted and an action plan implemented.

Horizon BCBSNJ maintains appointment availability standards for offering a first available appointment. The standards outlined in this policy for routine physical exams, routine care, urgent care and emergent care are based on common waiting times for care in the community. The standards for after-hours care and office waiting times are based on what Horizon BCBSNJ determined to be best practice.

These standards are not intended to direct the course of clinical care physicians provide to a Horizon BCBSNJ member. Nor do these standards replace the independent professional clinical judgment or the practitioner’s professional duty to exercise special knowledge and skill in the treatment of patients. As set forth in Horizon BCBSNJ’s Agreements, the practitioner remains responsible for the quality and type of health care services provided. A practitioner may need to see a patient earlier than the time frames listed based on the patient’s symptoms and/or health history.

The hours of operation for physicians should be convenient and not discriminate against members.

For practitioners that treat Medicare Advantage members: All first tier and downstream entities that contract with Horizon BCBSNJ, a Medicare Advantage Organization (MAO) must comply with our appointment availability standards.

Horizon BCBSNJ annually surveys a random sample of primary care, Ob/Gyn and specialist practices to determine if their first available appointments, after-hours care and office waiting times meet our standards. We expect that each practice meet all of the standards to be considered compliant with this policy. Each surveyed practice will receive a scorecard comparing their responses with the aggregate responses within the same survey type (i.e. primary care, Ob/Gyn and specialists). Practices that are not compliant will receive a highlighted scorecard noting the standards not met and will be re-evaluated again as part of the next annual survey to ensure compliance.

The Network Management Department will maintain a database of responses to the following questions and monitor practices that are non-compliant with any standard for two or more years to determine if personalized education is needed. Practices that are repeatedly non-compliant may be referred to the Director of Physician Contracting and Network Operations, who will determine next steps including referral to the Credentials Committee for appropriate action.

  1. When is your first available appointment for a routine physical exam? (primary care-type providers and Ob/Gyns only)
  2. When is your first available appointment for routine care?
  3. When is your first available appointment for urgent care?
  4. How quickly are members seen for emergent care?
  5. Does the practice have a mechanism in place to respond to after-hours phone calls for urgent or emergent care and how long does it generally take for calls to be returned?
  6. How many minutes beyond scheduled appointment times do patients wait to see a practitioner?

6/3/2017: Administrative policies PCP, Ob/Gyn and Physician Access Standards (effective since 8/26/11), and Specialist Provider Access Standards (effective since 7/16/93) replaced with the posting of this policy.


  • HMO Regulation N.J.A.C 11:24-6.2(d)(4) and HCQA Regulation N.J.A.C. 11:24A-4.10(b)(1)(iii)
  • NCQA - Current Standards and Guidelines for the Accreditation of Health Plans
  • Medicare Managed Care Manual, Chapter 4, Section 110.0 “Access and Availability Rules for Coordinated Care Plan
  • Medicare Part C & D Star Rating Technical Notes
  • State Health Benefits Program and School Employees' Health Benefits Program plan requirements are effective January 1, 2020.