Las Vegas Chamber Pushing to Start Association Health Plan

Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...

By Brenna Goth

The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce is pushing to be among the first business organizations to use new U.S. Department of Labor rules letting a range of groups offer health insurance to their members.

The chamber is working to develop an association health plan, which lets small businesses unite to improve buying power and broaden the risk pool. The chamber hopes to start the service Sept. 1, spokeswoman Cara Clarke told Bloomberg Law.

The move is possible under DOL rules finalized last month. The regulations expand association health plans, which supporters say will offer lower-cost coverage for small businesses and self-employed people.

The changes stem from an October executive order by President Donald Trump asking the department to look at the issue. Opponents, though, say the new rules could undercut the Affordable Care Act by offering cheaper, lower-coverage plans.

‘Opening Up the Opportunity’

For the Las Vegas chamber, the DOL is helping bring back a benefit once used by about 20,000 people employed by members of the chamber, Clarke said. The chamber provided an association health plan for roughly 30 years, until provisions in the ACA made it unfeasible, she said.

“They de facto went away,” Clarke said.

Chamber leaders have since worked to bring the plan back as an option for its thousands of members. It can be one of the most practical health-care options for small businesses, Clarke said.

“They don’t have a lot of buying power,” she said.

The group is working to find a provider to partner with.

The new DOL rules expand the scope of coverage so that self-employed people are now eligible to join association health plans, instead of businesses of two or more people. The rules also make it possible to work across state borders, such as partnering with another chamber of commerce.

“This is actually opening up the opportunity much more than ever before,” Clarke said.

A representative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also supported expanding association health plans, couldn’t immediately answer how many chambers are expected to act on the new rules or how quickly.

Impacts on ACA Weighed

The plans are controversial, though, in part for what they don’t offer. Plans aren’t required to provide all of the benefits mandated under the ACA.

That would make the plans appealing to a healthier workforce, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The office estimates about 4 million people could enroll in association health plans by 2023.

Dozens of groups, such as the American Heart Association and American Liver Foundation, issued a statement when the DOL released the rules and said the changes could leave consumers “with substandard plans that leave both their health and financial security at risk.”

Younger, healthier people could leave the individual marketplace, making care more expensive for people who want broader coverage, it said.

The Nevada Division of Insurance, the regulator overseeing insurance, didn’t immediately respond to questions from Bloomberg Law.

Try Benefits & Executive Compensation News