by Jordan Roberts
Former Director of Government Affairs, John Locke Foundation
In a recent newsletter piece, I wrote about the Trump administration’s new rules for Association Health Plans. These plans offer small businesses and self-employed owners new opportunities to group together in order to get health coverage together with other entities that share a common business interest or geographical area. One of the first groups to take advantage of such a health benefit plan was the Land O Lakes dairy farmers group. Now we see the rule playing out at home in North Carolina. The NC Restaurant and Lodging Association is taking advantage of the new rules by offering health benefits to its member employers:
The association’s benefit trust will be available to hotels, restaurants, country clubs, bars and other small hospitality businesses with between two and 99 full-time employees.
How much the plan would cost employees was unclear. Association members have to request a quote for themselves and their employees, and rates are based on a variety of factors, said Julie Colman, a spokeswoman for the association.
An association health plan initiative, which was approved June 19 by the U.S. Labor Department, allows those business “to band together to purchase group health coverage typically only available to large employers.” Some plans allow self-employed people to participate.
The association is linking its efforts to the National Restaurant Association and its state partners. The insurance is being serviced by UnitedHealthcare. For more information, go to Restauranthealthcare.org/Products/Health.
The association said there are about 482,3000 restaurant and food-service workers in North Carolina, about 11 percent of the workforce, and more than 18,000 food and drinking place locations.
“This benefit trust takes meaningful steps to help our members across the state address rising health care costs,” Lynn Minges, the association’s president, said in a statement.
“We’re empowering small hospitality groups and operators to provide their employees with excellent health care at a reasonable cost.”
According to the U.S. Labor Department, association health plans include consumer protections and healthcare anti-discrimination protections that also apply to large businesses.
“AHPs may not charge higher premiums or deny coverage to people because of pre-existing conditions, or cancel coverage because an employee becomes ill,” according to the department.
The Trump Administration rule has spurred the creation of association health plans and I expect the trend to continue. The plans give more options to small businesses to offer comprehensive, affordable health coverage to members of a group that shares common business interests. It would be in North Carolina’s best interest if the General Assembly made these plans more accessible through legislation instead of more difficult to access. North Carolina has the opportunity to be a state leader in allowing these plans to help people who need relief from the current choices of purchasing health insurance.