Will changing jobs mean losing health insurance?
'My son was diagnosed with a serious, chronic medical condition about six years ago, and I'm worried that [his] illness will be flagged as a pre-existing condition.'
(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I've been very successful as a salesperson at the same company for several years now, but I'd like to change jobs because there's not much chance for advancement here. The problem is that my son was diagnosed with a serious, chronic medical condition about six years ago, and I'm worried that if I change jobs, my son's illness will be flagged as a pre-existing condition and will not be covered under my new employer's health plan. Is it appropriate to ask about this in a job interview? -Stuck Here for Now
Dear Stuck: Well, you can certainly ask, but if you do, any honest interviewer will explain that it has been illegal since 1996 for employers to deny medical coverage to new hires because of pre-existing conditions.
Remember when Hillary Clinton tried to come up with a plan for universal health insurance? That didn't work but, as a sort of compromise measure, Congress passed a law known as HIPAA (for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
"One of the main purposes of HIPAA was and is to allow employees to change jobs without losing health coverage - that is, to end the phenomenon of 'job lock,' where people were in effect locked into a job by the fear of giving up those benefits," says Sharon Cohen, an employment attorney at worldwide employee-benefits consulting firm Watson Wyatt (www.watsonwyatt.com) in Arlington, Va.
So go ahead and change jobs. As long as you and your family have been covered by an employer's group health plan for at least 12 months, with no interruptions in that coverage lasting more than 60 days (due to, for example, a job hunt during which you had no insurance), the law ensures that your new employer can't refuse to cover you or your family because of a pre-existing condition. And even then, they may decline only to cover the pre-existing condition for a limited time.
For employees as a group, incidentally, that does have a downside.
"HIPAA is a big reason why we have seen so many employers raising co-payments and deductibles for all their employees in recent years," notes Cohen.
In other words, a company's obligation to cover everyone - including those who bring expensive pre-existing conditions with them into a new job - often means that every employee has to pay a little more, no matter how healthy he or she may be. It's a question of spreading the cost around among a larger pool of participants, which is really what insurance is all about in the first place.
Dear Annie: Call me paranoid, but I really value my privacy (I have been a victim of identity theft once already, and straightening it out was a two-year nightmare). So I hesitate to post my resume or any other information about myself on any job site except the biggest and best-known ones, like Monster.com, etc. My friends tell me that, because I have highly specialized skills, I'm missing out by not taking advantage of all the smaller sites that serve particular job-market niches. But haven't some of these smaller sites turned out to be scams? How do you tell whether a job site is legitimate? -Once Burned, Twice Shy
Dear Burned: With more than 40,000 job boards operating on the Web, and new ones popping up all the time, there are bound to be a few bad apples. One way to avoid them is to check out www.employmentwebsites.org, the home of the nonprofit International Association of Employment Web Sites, for a list of links to its member sites. All 600-plus IAEWS members have been thoroughly vetted to make sure they protect job seekers' privacy and provide the services they claim to offer. Many are the kind of niche sites, specializing in particular industries or skills, that your friends are urging you to visit.
Long-time online publisher Peter Weddle (www.weddles.com), who started the association, understands your desire for privacy.
"It's extremely rare for one of our member sites to sell, barter, or otherwise convey personal information to any other site," he says. "However, if a member site chooses to do so, they must tell the person in advance - and in English, not in technobabble."
Of course, job seekers themselves have to safeguard their identities from thieves as well. Never, for example, put your home address, date of birth, or Social Security number on an online resume or application. But you knew that already - right?