On March 1, 2018, Consumers Union submitted these comments to the U.S. Department of Labor, in response to the Department’s proposed rule, RIN 1210-AB85, Definition of “Employer” under Section 3(5) of ERISA – Association Health Plans.

We support efforts to improve affordability and access to health coverage for all consumers. But, lowering the guardrails around Associated Health Plans (AHPs) and encouraging employers and individuals to enroll in these plans is not the best way to increase access to affordable quality healthcare and coverage; it will, instead, exacerbate the affordability issues and expand the number of underinsured. The Department acknowledges that there will be both positive and negative outcomes of this proposed rule. It is our position, and that of a broad range of stakeholders, that the negative effects of expanding the footprint of AHPs clearly and by far outweigh the positives. As our comments articulate, below, this proposed rule:

  • Jeopardizes access to affordable, comprehensive, coverage for millions of small business employees;
  • Undermines the individual and small group markets;
  • Puts into question states’ regulatory autonomy and long-term ability to tailor consumer protections; and
  • Offers misleading choice instead of real solutions.

A better approach would be to press forward with plans to stabilize the individual and small group markets and to expand affordability programs to more Americans.

We believe this proposed rule will leave millions of consumers and patients in AHP arrangements with insufficient coverage, unpaid medical bills, and lifelong health implications – just as occurred with AHPs before the ACA provided more oversight and protection – while millions more consumers will lose access to affordable, comprehensive, insurance coverage. Given the foregoing expressed concerns, we strongly urged the Department not to move forward with finalizing the rule. If the Department elects to do so, we urged the Department to reconsider each proposal and to finalize only those that uphold states’ strong regulatory authority and the consumer protections currently in place.