U.S. Department of Labor Announces Proposal to Expand Access to Healthcare Through Small Business Health Plans
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to expand the opportunity to offer employment-based health insurance to small businesses through Small Business Health Plans, also known as Association Health Plans.
Up to 11 million Americans working for small businesses/sole proprietors and their families lack employer-sponsored insurance. These 11 million Americans could find coverage under this proposal. Many small employers struggle to offer insurance because it is currently too expensive and cumbersome. These employees – and their families – would have an additional alternative through Small Business Health Plans (Association Health Plans). These plans would close the gap of uninsured without eliminating options available in the healthcare marketplace.
Under the proposal, small businesses and sole proprietors would have more freedom to band together to provide affordable, quality health insurance for employees.
The proposed rule, which applies only to employer-sponsored health insurance, would allow employers to join together as a single group to purchase insurance in the large group market. These improvements stand to open health insurance coverage for millions of Americans and their families by making it more affordable for thousands of small businesses and sole proprietors. By joining together, employers may reduce administrative costs through economies of scale, strengthen their bargaining position to obtain more favorable deals, enhance their ability to self-insure, and offer a wider array of insurance options.
As proposed, the rule would:
- Allow employers to form a Small Business Health Plan on the basis of geography or industry. A plan could serve employers in a state, city, county, or a multi-state metro area, or it could serve all the businesses in a particular industry nationwide;
- Allow sole proprietors to join Small Business Health Plans, clearing a path to access health insurance for the millions of uninsured Americans who are sole proprietors or the family of sole proprietors.
The proposed rule includes important protections for Americans. Small Business Health Plans (Association Health Plans) cannot charge individuals higher premiums based on health factors or refuse to admit employees to a plan because of health factors. The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration will closely monitor these plans to protect consumers.
The NPRM will be published in the Federal Register on Jan. 5, 2018, and be available for public comment for 60 days. The Department encourages interested parties to submit comments on the proposed rule. The NPRM, along with the procedures for submitting comments, can be found at the Federal Register website.
Highlights of proposed Association Health Plan Rules
Employers Could Band Together for the Single Purpose of Obtaining Health Coverage
The proposed regulation would remove existing restrictions in the Department’s sub-regulatory guidance on ERISA section 3(5) to allow employers to more easily join together in organizations that offer group health coverage to member employers and their employees under one group health plan. Specifically, the regulation would allow employers to band together for the express purpose of offering health coverage if they either are: (1) in the same trade, industry, line of business, or profession; or ( 2) have a principal place of business within a region that does not exceed the boundaries of the same State or the same metropolitan area (even if the metropolitan area includes more than one State)
The Group or Association Must Have An Organizational Structure and Be Functionally Controlled by its Employer Members
The proposal would require that the group or association have a formal organizational structure with a governing body and have by-laws or other similar indications of formality appropriate for the legal form in which the group or association operates, and that the group or association’s member employers control its functions and activities, including the establishment and maintenance of the group health plan, either directly or through the regular election of directors, officers, or other similar representatives.
Group or Association Plan Coverage Must Be Limited to Employees of Employer Members and Treatment of Working Owners
Health Nondiscrimination Protections
The nondiscrimination provisions in paragraph (d) of the proposed regulation build on the existing health nondiscrimination provisions applicable to group health plans under HIPAA, as amended by the Affordable Care Act (HIPAA/ACA health nondiscrimination rules) , with an additional clarification addressing how to apply those rules to association coverage.