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Nearly 700,000 teachers and other state employees, their dependents and retirees will health insurance providershave to decide by fall whether to switch insurance companies after the state Department of Community Health announced Thursday it was reducing the number of insurers from three to two.

Currently, members have the option of enrolling with BlueCross BlueShield, Kaiser or United Healthcare, said Community Health spokeswoman Lisa Marie Shekell. This fall, members, including legislators, will have to decide between United Healthcare and CIGNA.692,759 total, are enrolled with United Healthcare. The state did not break out membership for the other two plans.

She said all state employees currently enrolled with United Healthcare can remain with the provider or make a switch but will still have many options. Open enrollment extends from Oct. 10 to Nov. 10.Current Kaiser enrollees can stay in Kaiser for one additional year if they so choose, she said, or can go with CIGNA or United Healthcare.The state said it had completed a competitive procurement process for the contracts. New health plan contracts will be effective Jan. 1, 2009.

“The health insurance providers is what is changing,” Shekell said. “CIGNA and United Healthcare had to meet certain criterion the State Health Benefit Plan was looking for.”She said 97 percent of car insurance owners and members will be able to go to the same doctors under United Healthcare or CIGNA plans.

“Innovation in health care ensures new choices and opportunities to improve the health and well-being of our members,” Dr. Rhonda Medows, commissioner of DCH, said in a prepared statement. “Both CIGNA and United Healthcare demonstrated established, comprehensive, statewide provider access for our 700,000 members as well as offering our members access to innovative wellness programs and leading-edge disease state management programs.”

Nancy Goldstein, director of the State Health Benefit Plan, said in a statement that state officials are “confident that this plan to transform SHBP will deliver enhanced choice and services while keeping Health Insurance Providers our members.”

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