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Ask the Health Insurance Expert

My husband's employer has only offered one choice of health care coverage this year. In previous years, his employer has always offered a choice of two or three different plans. Is it legal for an employer to only give this single choice? I was under the impression that there had to be at least two companies/coverage choices offered. We live in New York.

An employer can do almost anything with a group health plan, including changing the choices every year, dropping one or more choices or even dropping health insurance altogether. Your employer is not legally required to offer more than one plan. In fact, employers don’t have to offer a health insurance plan at all.

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Health benefits are often among the items targeted for cost-cutting when companies are tightening their belts. A study released in May 2010, by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, showed that employment-based health insurance plans have passed more out-of-pocket costs on to workers in recent years. Deductibles, copayments for office visits and prescription drug copayments in employment-based health insurance plans have all gone up.

For instance, 52 percent of workers enrolled in a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan through their employer-provided health insurance had a deductible of at least $500 in 2009, up from 48 percent in 2008, 36 percent in 2007 and just 14 percent in 2000. Deductibles are higher and have increased faster in small firms than in large companies, according to the study. The institute is a non-partisan, non-profit research organization in Washington, D.C., that focuses on health, savings, retirement and economic security issues.

Among the frustrating issues that may arise when your health plan changes is having to find a new doctor if your current physician isn't part of the new health plan's network of providers. You may have the right to keep your doctor if you have a chronic or serious condition, but protections vary by state.

For more, see your rights when your health plan changes.

Last updated: Dec. 16, 2010
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