Pursuing Health Insurance Options for Members

Gene Barr, President of the PA Chamber of Business & Industry; Bob Carl, Jr. , Chair of the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals; and Maggie Sheely, Manager, Great Lakes Region, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, discussed opportunities for offering association health plans in Pennsylvania at a statewide chamber conference held in mid-October in Schuylkill County.

In June, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a rule that allowed small businesses to once again band together for health insurance. However, Pennsylvania was one of 12 states that has thrown a bucket of cold water on the opportunity for chambers, and other associations, to offer lower-cost options for members. Organizations at the state and federal levels are working together to challenge these states in implementing association health plans.

The DOL tweaked the ERISA definition of “employer” to include “employer association.” This allows a group of small businesses to be treated as a single, large group in pursuing health insurance options that are more flexible than marketplace plans that must comply with the Affordable Care Act. In anticipation of this rule change, the Chamber’s benefits partner, ChamberChoice, had been in discussions with several health insurance providers about again offering health insurance options.

Attorneys general from eleven states and the District of Columbia filed suit against the DOL claiming the rule violated federal procedure. Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman also sought clarification from the Federal government on states’ ability to regulate health insurance and expressed concern over “sham” health insurance offerings. As DOL confirmed that states retain the right to regulate insurance, Altman maintains that Pennsylvania’s regulations, which closely mirror the Affordable Care Act, provide necessary protection for individuals. Most health insurance companies have not pursued association health plan discussions following the state’s positioning.

While Pennsylvania’s position on association health plans could change with a new governor, state and federal associations are not sitting on their hands. The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and national associations are attempting to demonstrate to state policymakers that association health plans had been offered responsibly and are seeking flexibility in plan requirements. The Columbia Montour Chamber is supporting these efforts with the goal of offering cost-effective health insurance options for members.