An easier way for small businesses to join together to provide health insurance for employees

Senator Enzi’s April Chamber of Commerce Submission

By U.S. Senator Mike Enzi

Small businesses are a key part of our country’s economy. Small business owners need health insurance for themselves and they want to offer it to their employees. As a former small business owner, I understand what a struggle it can be to obtain affordable health care coverage. Unfortunately, it is often not as easy for a small business to offer affordable and comprehensive health coverage as it is for a big business. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, small businesses pay on average from eight to 18 percent more than large businesses for the same health insurance policy. I think Association Health Plans can help solve this problem by giving small businesses more market leverage.

Association Health Plans let small businesses band together and leverage their shared power in numbers to obtain affordable and comprehensive health insurance as though they were a single large employer. One family shoe store probably cannot get an insurance company to play ball, but 1,000 family shoe stores probably could. It’s important to explain that Association Health Plans are not allowed to cut corners. They are subject to the same consumer protection requirements that apply to large employers, including compliance with Affordable Care Act requirements for large employer health plans.

Association Health Plans are not new. They have long been permitted under federal law. For example, the Wyoming Chambers Health Benefit Plan is an Association Health Plan that has served Wyoming’s Chamber of Commerce since 2007. This plan offers comprehensive and affordable coverage to 11 local Chambers of Commerce, 52 employers and 255 employees. Last year, the Trump administration issued a final rule that made it easier for small businesses to group together to negotiate and offer coverage, and so far roughly 30 Association Health Plans have formed under the rule. The Congressional Budget Office projects that four million Americans will enroll in Association Health Plans by 2023, and 400,000 of them would otherwise be uninsured.

However, a federal District Court judge struck down the rule, which puts tens of thousands of people currently enrolled in comprehensive health coverage through Association Health Plans that rely on the final rule at risk of losing that coverage. I recently introduced a bill that would cement the final rule in law to provide certainty for current enrollees and ensure the pathway remains available for new Association Health Plans to form, to allow even more people a way to obtain comprehensive and affordable coverage.

I have been championing the idea of Association Health Plans, which I sometimes call Small Business Health Plans, for more than 15 years. We need to promote and protect our country’s small businesses and Association Health Plans will aid in doing so. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, Association Health Plans are “a health care victory for small businesses.” I am hopeful that Congress will act quickly to pass my bill and protect Association Health Plans and the thousands of people who rely on them to receive health insurance.

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