Capitation Vs Fee For Service: Difference Explained

Capitation Vs Fee For Service

The healthcare sector is at a crossroads, with value-based care replacing the fee-for-service paradigm. This transformation necessitates a deep dive into alternative payment models, particularly capitation and fee-for-service. 

Through this blog, we will explore the difference between the capitation vs fee for service model and how these payment methods contribute to the overarching goals of enhancing care quality and reducing healthcare costs, a vital concern for healthcare administrators.

What are Capitation Payments?

Capitation payments are a specific way of paying for healthcare services, where healthcare providers (like doctors or hospitals) receive a fixed, pre-arranged amount of money per patient, regardless of how much care that patient actually needs.

Break Down of Capitation Payments

Fixed payment: Healthcare providers receive a set amount of money per patient, each month or year, for a pre-defined period. This payment is meant to cover all the healthcare services that the patient might need during that time.

Risk adjustment: Sometimes, the fixed payment will be adjusted based on the patient’s expected healthcare needs. This means patients with chronic conditions or other risk factors might get a higher payment than healthier patients.

Managed care: Capitation payments are often used by managed care organizations (MCOs), like HMOs and PPOs. These organizations are responsible for managing the overall costs of healthcare for their members, and they use capitation payments as a way to incentivize providers to keep those costs down.

What is the Fee For Service Payment Model?

The fee-for-service (FFS) model is a traditional payment system in healthcare where providers are reimbursed for each individual service they deliver to a patient. This means they receive separate payments for every consultation, test, procedure, and medication. Think of it like paying a plumber per hour, rather than a flat fee for the entire project.

Capitation vs. Fee-for-Service: A Comparison Chart

The main difference that is seen between capitation payment model and fee for service model is the way payment is made. 




Payment structure

Providers receive a fixed, pre-arranged amount per patient, regardless of services used.

Providers are reimbursed for each individual service they deliver to a patient.

Financial risk

Providers bear the financial risk for all services provided to their assigned patients.

Payers bear the financial risk for all services provided to their insured members.


Encourages preventive care and efficient resource management.

May incentivize overutilization of services to increase revenue.

Quality of care

Can lead to decreased quality if providers focus on cost-cutting over patient needs.

May not incentivize quality improvements unless tied to performance metrics.

Administrative costs

Lower administrative costs for both providers and payers.

Higher administrative costs for processing and billing individual claims.

Patient Access

Patients may have limited access to specialists or new technologies due to budget constraints.

Patients have wider choice of providers, but may face higher out-of-pocket costs.


Payment structure is transparent, but patients may not be aware of all costs involved.

Costs are more transparent for patients, but may vary depending on provider and service.


Works well for populations with predictable healthcare needs.

More suitable for populations with diverse healthcare needs.

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Fee For Service VS Capitation: How Does These Model Work For Your Practice

Fee For Service (FFS) and Capitation are like two sides of the same coin in healthcare payment models. FFS, the more conventional method, compensates healthcare providers for each individual service they provide. This model prioritizes quantity, potentially leading to an increase in healthcare services. Let’s get a better idea by an example:

Fee-For-Service (FFS):

Revenue: Clinician X gets paid for each service rendered, like consultations, prescriptions, and lab tests.

Patient flow: Clinician X can see as many patients as possible to maximize income, potentially leading to rushed appointments.

Preventive care: Incentives for preventive care are weaker, as income depends on services provided, not overall patient health.

Financial risk: Clinician X bears the risk of patients not coming in or not having insurance coverage.

Example: Dr. Clinician X sees 30 patients in a day, charging $50 per consultation. Her revenue is $1500, but she incurs overhead costs like staff salaries and rent.


Capitation Vs Fee For Service

Revenue: Clinician Y receives a fixed monthly payment for each patient enrolled in her practice, regardless of the services used.

Patient flow: Clinician Y has more flexibility in scheduling appointments, focusing on quality and preventive care.

Preventive care: Incentivizes early intervention and management of chronic conditions to avoid costly future complications.

Financial risk: Clinician Y bears the risk of patients using more services than anticipated.

Example: Clinician Y has 100 enrolled patients, receiving $100 per patient per month. Her monthly revenue is $10,000, but she needs to manage costs to ensure it covers all services provided.

Pros and Cons of Capitation Payment Model



Capitation incentivizes providers to manage their budgets efficiently and deliver care in a cost-effective manner.

Providers may be reluctant to refer patients to specialists or order expensive tests if they are worried about exceeding their budget.

Since providers receive a fixed payment regardless of services used, they have a greater incentive to focus on preventive care and disease management, which can improve patient health and prevent costly future complications.

There is some concern that capitation could lead to lower quality of care, as providers may be tempted to cut corners to save money. 

Capitation encourages providers to develop a closer relationship with their patients, as they become financially responsible for their overall health outcomes

Patients with complex or chronic conditions may have difficulty finding providers who are willing to accept them under a capitated payment system, as these patients can be more expensive to manage

Capitation often has lower administrative costs for both providers and payers, as it simplifies billing and eliminates the need to process individual claims for each service.

Providers bear the financial risk for all services provided to their assigned patients. This can be challenging for practices with unpredictable patient populations or high-cost cases

Pros and Cons of Fee For Service


Transparency: Patients and insurers know exactly what each service costs, fostering a sense of control and accountability.

Provider autonomy: Providers have more control over their income and can set their own fees, potentially attracting and retaining skilled professionals.

Flexibility: Patients have a wider choice of providers, as they are not limited to a network, and can seek specialized care when needed.


Costly: This can lead to increased healthcare costs overall, as providers may be incentivized to order more services to boost their income, potentially leading to unnecessary procedures and tests.

Focus on quantity over quality: Providers may prioritize providing more services, regardless of their necessity or effectiveness, to increase their reimbursement, potentially compromising the quality of care.

Unequal access: Patients with limited insurance coverage may have difficulty affording necessary care, exacerbating existing healthcare disparities.

Administrative burden: Processing and billing individual claims for each service is time-consuming and expensive for both providers and payers, contributing to administrative waste.

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Final Words

In conclusion, the choice between Capitation and Fee For Service (FFS) models in healthcare is a complex and nuanced decision that must be aligned with the specific needs of a practice and its patient population.

Ultimately, both models have their distinct advantages and drawbacks, and the decision for a practice should hinge on a careful evaluation of their unique circumstances, patient demographics, and overarching healthcare delivery goals. 

The shift towards a more patient-centric, outcome-focused healthcare system calls for a balanced approach that optimizes quality, cost, and access to care for all patients.

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