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Can My Company Force Me Off My Insurance if I Have an Expensive Condition?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

My family is in the midst of a major medical crisis that’s already generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in hospital bills. I work for a small company that’s asked me to go on my husband’s insurance because they fear these costs will raise their premiums so much that they’ll become untenable. I don’t want to bankrupt them, but I don’t have to say yes, right? — Terri M., Knoxville, TN
The company can’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do without opening itself up to potential discrimination claims. Notice that I said discrimination; I didn’t refer to any Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) requirements because those don’t apply if your employer has fewer than 50 employees. In other words, a small business doesn’t have to offer any health care to its employees, but if it does, it can’t discriminate among who can and cannot participate in the group plan.

So no matter how nicely they approach you on this issue, it’s disparate treatment — they’re trying to deny you the equal opportunity to participate in a companywide benefit because of your partner/spouse. Plus, switching plans may end up costing you more because of higher premiums, co-pays or deductibles. Not to mention, you may have to start looking for new doctors if your current physicians aren’t covered in your husband’s plan.

Realistically, the unfortunate health-related events that happened to you could happen to any of their employees — or to them. Therefore, you might want to suggest that your small-business owner explore other means of health care that would be more equitable to their employees while also bringing a greater savings to the company. Such alternatives include the Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace, converting to individual policies with a premium reimbursement policy, Direct Primary Care or even Health Sharing Ministries. All of which are better alternatives than your being singled as too expensive and a financial risk to the company.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at askterry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.