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How do I determine what my health care coverage or benefits are?

UPDATED: February 18, 2010

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The most important document is always the health insurance policy or the health plan service agreement; these are the binding contracts between insurers or plans and their insured or members. If you bought your own insurance, you should have a copy of the policy. You might also have a summary or brochure, which is legally known as an"evidence of coverage."

If you have health insurance or a health plan through an employer or group, you usually do not have a copy of the insurance contract or plan agreement, but rather only has a handbook, summary, brochure or other type of evidence of coverage. In either circumstance, it is the actual insurance policy or plan agreement that controls what the coverage and benefits are, with one important exception. Generally, the law provides that evidences of coverage, whatever their form, may operate to expand or increase the coverage or benefits available, but they may not operate to decrease or limit the benefits and coverage available below that which is provided in the insurance policy or plan agreement. Therefore, if there is any question about whether a benefit or coverage is available, you as an insured or plan member should read and compare the language about the particular benefit or coverage in both the policy or plan and the related evidence of coverage.

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