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November 11, 2019 10:50am

Op-Ed: Why Association Health Plans are important to growing health care access

This article first appeared in Louisville Business First on November 8, 2019.

The struggle to provide employees with access to affordable, quality healthcare is a story I hear all too often from small business owners and entrepreneurs. These folks know that offering competitive health care benefits is key to attracting talent and growing their business. Unfortunately, for too many and too often, the costs prove prohibitive.

While major healthcare reforms in Washington seem unlikely to happen anytime soon, lawmakers could still provide much-needed relief for many small business owners by passing legislation like the Association Health Plans Act. This bill would increase access to affordable healthcare plans for thousands of employers, allowing them to grow their businesses and improve health outcomes for their employees and their families.

The difficulties that small business owners face in providing health benefits to their employees is a decades-old problem. A quadrennial survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business shows that health insurance costs have remained the number one small business problem for the past 30 years.

What makes the need for the Association Health Plans Act more pressing these days is that the problem is getting worse.

A new survey by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation shows that health insurance premiums for a family plan now costs employers, on average, $14,561 per year. That’s a 242 percent increase since 1999 when a family plan costs employers, on average, $4,247 per year. No wonder only 30 percent of Kentucky businesses with fewer than 50 employees are able to offer their team health benefits. They can’t afford it.

Association health plans, or AHPs, serve as a viable pathway to offering health benefits for many small business owners. These plans allow small employers to band together to access the same affordable coverage options available to larger employers under the rules of the Affordable Care Act.

AHPs are already helping many small business owners in our region provide health benefits to their employees. GLI has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs and employers in Greater Louisville gain coverage for their employees under these plans through our successful Humana HealthSolutions program.

Action by Congress, however, could expand access to association health plans for thousands more. Passage of legislation like the Association Health Plans Act would create more flexibility in how AHPs are formed and who can gain coverage under them. This bill would also give certainty to current plan participants by responding to a federal court decision earlier this year that challenged a new rule for AHPs proposed by the Department of Labor.

Addressing the number one problem faced by small business owners and helping entrepreneurs offer health benefits to their employees are goals we can all rally around, regardless of political leanings or partisan affiliation. GLI is actively working with members of the Greater Louisville congressional delegation to expand access to AHPs. In fact, several lawmakers from our region have already signed on as cosponsors of the Association Health Plans Act. We encourage all members of our community to step up and help us move this important issue forward.