Trump Executive Order Opens Door for Association Health Plans

On Thursday, President Trump directed agencies to develop regulations that would allow membership organizations to sponsor health plans across state lines. But critics worry that costs for sicker people could rise, and many questions remain unanswered, including what groups would qualify as associations.

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday morning instructing federal agencies to rewrite federal rules for association health plans (AHPs), which allow small businesses of a similar type to band together through an association to purchase coverage.

Under the executive order, membership groups could sponsor insurance plans across state lines and would be able to avoid some requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including requirements that they cover certain benefits.

How the administration defines an association and how DOL and other agencies rewrite existing rules will be important questions to answer.

The administration is also expanding the availability of short-term insurance plans, allowing insurers to sell insurance that would last for up to a year, up from three months under Obama-era restrictions. These stopgap policies may not be required to cover preexisting conditions, mental health services, and other benefits but could serve as a bridge for people who are between jobs or young adults no longer eligible for coverage under their parents’ health plans. Critics say such plans would attract younger, healthier people, causing prices to skyrocket for those older or sicker individuals in the Obamacare markets.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who joined Trump at the White House Thursday, has been pushing for new rules that would expand association health plans. He called the executive order “the biggest free market reform of healthcare in a generation.”

Administration officials made clear that the executive order does not itself make changes but directs agencies to issue new regulations. Those new rules will be subject to a notice and comment period that could take months, officials told reporters.

Among the details missing in the executive order is who will qualify as an association. According to Politico, the Department of Labor (DOL) is working on a reinterpretation of the workplace rule that would broaden the kinds of groups that can qualify as an association and exempt themselves from ACA regulations.

ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, said that ASAE “is studying the executive order closely but will be looking for more details about how these new rules would work. ASAE has long believed that association health plans could expand healthcare choices for small businesses and franchise owners if federally regulated. But how the administration defines an association and how DOL and other agencies rewrite existing rules will be important questions to answer.”

(U.S. Department of Labor/Flickr)

Chris Vest, CAE

By Chris Vest, CAE

Chris Vest, CAE is vice president, corporate communications and public relations at ASAE. MORE

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