Trump administration puts skimpy health insurance plans in place

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"The regulatory burden on small business should certainly not be more than that on large companies", said DOL secretary Alexander AcostaRene (Alex) Alexander AcostaRNC chairwoman, Labor secretary pull out of annual Latino conference New Labor rule will be a big health care boon for small businesses There are now more job openings than unemployed workers in the US MORE, in announcing the rule.

Acosta said government forecasts estimate the rules will allow as many as 4 million people to gain coverage through AHPs, including 400,000 who are now uninsured.

Association health plans are a way for a "group of small businesses [to] pool together to have more purchasing power and get access to cheaper premiums", according to Vox's Sarah Kliff.

The portion of small businesses offering health-care coverage, which fell by about one-quarter between 2010 and 2017 largely because of ObamaCare, should increase as a result of this expanded coverage option.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that four million Americans will receive coverage through AHP plans, saving them thousands of dollars.

The new rules allow plans to exclude coverage for maternity care, prescription drugs, mental health services and other "essential health benefits" the ACA requires of coverage sold to individuals and small businesses. Consumer protections and healthcare anti-discrimination protections that apply to large businesses will also apply to AHPs organized under this rule.

As proposed, the final AHP rule amends the definition of "employer" under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to include an association of employers linked by industry or geography that is formed to sponsor a group health plan for its employer members. Such plans can continue to operate as before, or elect to follow the new requirements if they want to expand within a geographic area, regardless of industry, or to cover the self-employed.

Avalere Health, a Washington-based consulting firm, estimated last winter that the rules would lead to lower premiums by 2022 for those with association health plans - averaging $2,900 a year less than in the ACA marketplace for small businesses and $9,700 less compared with the individual market. "The President's decision helps working Americans-and their families-purchase quality, affordable health coverage", he said.

New York-based Oscar Health, a technology-focused health insurance company, has announced its plans to expand into six new markets across Florida, Arizona, and MI - and three additional large metro areas in Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. Previous to this rule, individuals and self-employed people were generally not allowed to buy AHPs, a restriction which has now been lifted.

The new rule does not affect previously existing AHPs, which were allowed under prior guidance. This would, in turn, send sicker people to the more expensive insurance plans.

The new rules substantially expand the circumstances under which association health plans can be created and purchased.

Democrats strongly oppose the move as allowing for "junk" insurance that will not meet people's needs and that will cause premiums to rise for those remaining in ObamaCare plans, once some healthier people are siphoned off into the new plans.

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which represents insurers, released a statement saying the final rule does offer some important consumer protections, including for those with preexisting conditions. That law, which goes into effect July 1, authorizes associations or related businesses to form multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs), which would be regulated by the insurance division.

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