Magazine article The Nation's Health

Association Health Plan Proposal a Risk to Consumers, Experts Say

Magazine article The Nation's Health

Association Health Plan Proposal a Risk to Consumers, Experts Say

Article excerpt

A PROPOSED regulation to expand access to controversial health insurance plans is raising alarms among public health advocates and insurance experts.

On Jan. 4, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a proposed regulation to expand association health plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Offered through professional or trade organizations, association health plans can be formed on the sole basis of a shared location or industry.

Under the regulation, individuals and small employers would have greater access to purchase association health plans across state lines. The plans would be categorized as large group health plans, which are not subject to certain requirements established under the Affordable Care Act.

Association health plans would also be able to skirt essential health benefits under the ACA, which could lead some people to forgo health care that is currently covered, such as inpatient and outpatient hospital care, emergency services and prescription coverage.

It is not only poor health outcomes that are cause for concern. Association health plans have a history plagued by insolvency and fraud. Public health advocates and insurance experts, including the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the American Academy of Actuaries, have voiced opposition to association health plans for their risks to consumers.

APHA in February submitted comments to the Department of Labor against the proposed regulation, stating, "By increasing access to association health plans, which would not be required to provide consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act, the proposed regulation would reduce access to care and harm the health of millions of people with preexisting conditions."

In a January briefing by the Commonwealth Fund on the proposed regulation, a group of experts discussed the impact of association health plans on states and consumers. …

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