Part of President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, the new regulations are meant to discourage companies from making major changes in health insurance benefits.
The Obama administration says new rules will protect Americans who want to keep their current health insurance, but critics say the changes could end up causing millions to lose their coverage.
Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the new rules "make good on the president's promise that Americans can keep their health plan and doctor they like under the new law."
The healthcare reform bill, approved in March after a divisive year-long fight in Congress, exempts insurance plans that existed when the law was passed from implementing some of the healthcare reforms.
The so-called grandfather rule announced by Sebelius lets employers and insurers make routine changes to plans. But if they significantly cut benefits or increase out-of-pocket spending for consumers the companies can lose the exemption.
The rules announced on Monday are part of a series of steps toward implementation of a new law to expand coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans by 2014 and ban certain insurance practices like denying coverage for preexisting conditions.
The changes are being closely watched by investors to see how they will affect the health insurance industry, which includes companies such as Aetna, Cigna Corp and UnitedHealth Group, among others.
About 176 million Americans have employer-sponsored insurance. Companies who lose grandfather status will have to implement reforms like ensuring coverage of preventative care and access to some doctors without a physician referral.
Republicans and groups representing small business owners sharply criticized the strict regulations.
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