By including a provision encouraging the proliferation of association health plans, the annual House farm bill has become the latest vehicle for Republican attacks on comprehensive coverage and pre-existing condition protections. The bill authorizes $65 million in taxpayer funding to set up association health plans, which would be allowed to exclude or limit basic services such as prescription drug coverage, mental health care, and maternity care. Before the Affordable Care Act, these kinds of plans had a long history of fraud and unpaid claims, because many states exempt them from key consumer protections. When these plans fail, they leave people who thought they had real coverage out in the cold.

ASSOCIATION HEALTH PLANS DON’T HAVE TO OFFER COMPREHENSIVE COVERAGE

Vox: Association Health Plans Could Allow Groups To Act As Large Employers Which Do Not Have To Cover Essential Benefits Under The ACA. “The result could in many cases be that these new association health plans would be considered large employers when it comes to health insurance. Large employers are not subject to the same rules as individual or small-group plans under Obamacare. Most notably, they do not have to cover all of the law’s essential health benefits or meet the requirement that insurance cover a minimal percentage of a person’s medical bills.” [Vox, 10/12/17]

Treating Association Health Plans Like Large Employers Would Exempt Them From Guaranteeing Essential Health Benefits And Allow Them To Charge People Based On Health Status And Gender. Treating Association Health Plans like large-employers would exempt them from key consumer protections under the Affordable Care Act. Large employers do not have to offer plans with the Essential Health Benefits like maternity care, prescription drug coverage or mental health and substance abuse services. Insurers for large employers can also charge more based on health status and gender. [Georgetown Center on Health Insurance Reforms, December 2017]

Katherine Hempstead, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: “The Easier You Make It Not To Buy Comprehensive Coverage, The Harder You Make It Buy Comprehensive Coverage.” [New York Times, 10/11/17]

ASSOCIATION HEALTH PLANS HAVE A HISTORY OF FRAUD AND UNPAID CLAIMS

Former Insurance Fraud Investigator: “Fraudulent Association Health Plans Have Left Hundreds Of Thousands Of People With Unpaid Claims.” “Marc I. Machiz, who investigated insurance fraud as a Labor Department lawyer for more than 20 years, said the executive order was ‘summoning back demons from the deep.’ ‘Fraudulent association health plans have left hundreds of thousands of people with unpaid claims,’ he said. ‘They operate in a regulatory never-never land between the Department of Labor and state insurance regulators.’” [New York Times, 10/21/17]

2017: Labor Department Filed A Suit Against An AHP For 300 Employers In Washington State Alleging The AHP Had Charged Employers More Than $3 Million In Excessive Fees And Violating Its Fiduciary Duty By Using Assets For Personal Interests. “The problems are described in dozens of court cases and enforcement actions taken over more than a decade by federal and state officials who regulate the type of plans Mr. Trump is encouraging, known as association health plans. In many cases, the Labor Department said, it has targeted ‘unscrupulous promoters who sell the promise of inexpensive health benefit insurance, but default on their obligations.’ In several cases, it has found that people managing these health plans diverted premiums to their personal use. The department filed suit this year against an association health plan for 300 small employers in Washington State, asserting that its officers had mismanaged the plan’s assets and charged employers more than $3 million in excessive ‘administrative fees.’ Operators of the health plan violated their fiduciary duty by using its assets ‘in their own interest,’ rather than for the benefit of workers, the government said.” [New York Times, 10/21/17]

2016: A Labor Department Lawsuit Revealed An AHP Had Concealed Financial Problems And Left $3.6 Million In Unpaid Claims. “The Labor Department filed suit last year against a Florida woman and her company to recover $1.2 million that it said had been improperly diverted from a health plan serving dozens of employers. The defendants concealed the plan’s financial problems from plan participants and left more than $3.6 million in unpaid claims, the department said in court papers.” [New York Times, 10/21/17]

A Health Plan For New Jersey Small Businesses Collapsed With $7 Million In Unpaid Claims. “In another case, a federal appeals court found that a health plan for small businesses in New Jersey was ‘aggressively marketed but inadequately funded.’ The plan collapsed with more than $7 million in unpaid claims.” [New York Times, 10/21/17]

In Florida, A Man Pleaded Guilty To Embezzling $700,000 In Premiums From An AHP To Help Build A Home For Himself And Was Sentenced To 57 Months In Prison. “A Florida man was sentenced to 57 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to embezzling about $700,000 in premiums from a health plan that he had marketed to small businesses. The Labor Department and the Justice Department said he had used some of the plan premiums to build a home for himself.” [New York Times, 10/21/17]

In South Carolina, A Man Pleaded Guilty To Diverting Nearly $1 Million From An AHP For Churches And Small Businesses, Leaving $1.7 Million In Unpaid Claims. “A South Carolina man pleaded guilty after the government found that he had diverted more than $970,000 in insurance premiums from a health plan for churches and small businesses. ‘His embezzlement and the plan’s consequent failure left behind approximately $1.7 million in unpaid medical claims,’ the Labor Department said.” [New York Times, 10/21/17]

In Louisiana, Two People Pleaded Guilty To Using Money From The AHP For Spa Treatments, Diamond Cuff Links, Foreign Travel And Other Personal Expenses. “And in Louisiana, two people pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges after the government found that they had taken money from the medical benefit fund of a trade association and used it to pay for spa treatments, diamond cuff links, evening gowns, foreign travel and other personal expenses.” [New York Times, 10/21/17]

One AHP Scheme Shows How AHPs Can Move From State To State. Families USA chronicled an AHP scheme involving the American Trade Association, Smart Data Solutions, and Serve America Assurance. They found:

  • “Even after one state identifies a problem, the company may continue to operate for years in other states. North Carolina issued a cease and desist order to stop many of the players in this case from selling insurance in 2008.”
  • “But by June 2010, when Maryland issued a cease and desist order, the plans sold by these players had been identified in at least 23 states.2 „ Estimates of total premiums paid to these companies for unauthorized, unlicensed plans range from $14 million to $100 million.”
  • “This particular scheme operated through associations that went by many different names. (At least one of the players in this case was involved in a previous case concerned with fraudulent insurance sold through an association of employers in 2001-2002.”
  • “Consumers are often ill-protected when they buy coverage through an association, and the web of relationships among salespeople, associations, administrators, and actual insurers can be difficult for regulators to unravel and oversee. Consumers may be encouraged to join fake associations to buy health insurance so they have an illusion of coverage—and the insurers collect membership dues and premiums while illegally avoiding state oversight).” [Families USA, October 2010]

GAO Report In 1992 Showed Similar AHPs Left At Least 398,000 Participants With More Than $123 Million In Unpaid Claims And More Than 600 Plans In Almost Every State Failed To Comply With State Laws. “Back in 1992, the Government Accountability Office issued a scathing report on these multiple employer welfare arrangements (known as MEWAs; they’re pronounced “mee-wahs”) in which small businesses could pool funds to get the lower-cost insurance typically available only to large employers. These MEWAs, said the government, left at least 398,000 participants and their beneficiaries with more than $123 million in unpaid claims between January 1988 and June 1991. Furthermore, states reported massive and widespread problems with MEWAs. More than 600 plans in nearly every U.S. state failed to comply with insurance laws. Thirty-three states said enrollees were sometimes left without health coverage when MEWAs disbanded…’MEWAs have proven to be a source of regulatory confusion, enforcement problems and, in some instances, fraud,’ the GAO wrote at the time.” [Washington Post, 10/12/17]

Kentucky Experiment Showed AHPs Destabilize The Market And Caused Insurers To Leave Individual Market Or Not Sell New Policies Subject To Higher Standards. “In 1994, Kentucky passed a set of health insurance reforms (for the individual and small-group markets) that were very similar to the ACA’s market reforms.  These included a requirement for insurers to accept all applicants regardless of their health status, restrictions on exclusions of pre-existing health conditions, and a requirement that premiums be set without regard to health status, claims experience, or gender.  Premium variations for age, family size, and geographic factors were limited, and plan benefits were standardized. Insurers in the state resisted the reforms and lobbied to repeal parts of it. In 1996, Kentucky’s legislature passed legislation that repealed many of the market reforms.  Crucially, the law exempted associations of employers or individuals from the premium-rating and benefits requirements, a loophole that allowed associations to sell coverage under a much weaker regulatory scheme. In part because healthy individuals could buy association plans, the risk of adverse selection against the reformed individual market increased.  Nearly all insurers left Kentucky’s individual market or declined to sell new policies that were subject to the stronger rating and benefits standards. In 1998, the Kentucky legislature passed a bill that repealed many of the state’s remaining health insurance reforms.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 11/29/17]

KEY STAKEHOLDERS OPPOSE AHPs, SAYING THEY WOULD DESTABILIZE THE MARKETS, RAISE COSTS AND GUT PROTECTIONS FOR PEOPLE WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Liver Foundation, American Lung Association, Arthritis Foundation, Crohn’s And Colitis Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Epilepsy Foundation, Lutheran Services In America, March Of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Health Council, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, National Organization For Rare Disorders, United Way Worldwide, Volunteers Of America, Womenheart: “This Order Has The Potential To Price Millions Of People With Pre-Existing Conditions And Serious Illnesses Out Of The Individual Insurance Market And Put Millions More At Risk.” “This order has the potential to price millions of people with pre-existing conditions and serious illnesses out of the individual insurance market and put millions more at risk through the sale of insurance plans that won’t cover all the services patients want to stay healthy or the critical care they need when they get sick…Together, these actions would likely split the market between those who need the comprehensive benefits provided under current law and those who are currently healthy and can gamble with substandard coverage. Siphoning off healthy people into risky, low-value plans, could leave millions of Americans with chronic or serious illnesses in an unsustainable insurance pool with rising premiums and fewer choices. It could also leave those who are healthy seriously underinsured when they face an unexpected health crisis.” [Letter, 10/12/17]

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network: “Health Care Changes Could Leave Millions Of Cancer Patients And Survivors Unable To Access Meaningful Coverage.” “Today’s executive order jeopardizes the ability of millions of cancer patients, survivors and those at risk for the disease from being able to access or afford meaningful health insurance. Exempting an entire set of health plans from covering essential health benefits like prescription drugs or specialty care and allowing expansion and renewability of bare-bones short-term plans will split the insurance market. If younger and healthier people leave the market, people with serious illnesses like cancer will be left facing higher and higher premiums with few, if any, insurance choices.  Moreover, those who purchase cheap plans are likely to discover their coverage is inadequate when an unexpected health crisis happens leaving them financially devastated and costing the health care system more overall.” [ACS CAN, 10/12/17]

American Hospital Association: “These Provisions Could Destabilize The Individual And Small Group Markets, Leaving Millions Of Americans Who Need Comprehensive Coverage To Manage Chronic And Other Pre-Existing Conditions.” “Today’s Executive Order will allow health insurance plans that cover fewer benefits and offer fewer consumer protections…In addition, these provisions could destabilize the individual and small group markets, leaving millions of Americans who need comprehensive coverage to manage chronic and other pre-existing conditions, as well as protection against unforeseen illness and injury, without affordable options.” [AHA, 10/12/17]

American Medical Association: “The Executive Order’s Proposal To Expand Access To Association Health Plans And Allow Short-Term Plans To Cover Longer Time Periods May Weaken Important Patient Protections And Lead To Instability In The Individual Health Insurance Market.” “The AMA supports patient choice and promoting market competition, and supports the concept of association health plans. We have concerns, however, the Executive Order’s proposal to expand access to association health plans and allow short-term plans to cover longer time periods may weaken important patient protections and lead to instability in the individual health insurance market.” [AMA, 10/12/17]

American Academy Of Actuaries: “These Effects Could Include Tilting The Market In Favor Of Entities With Weaker Benefits Or Solvency Standards And Weakening The Protections For Consumers With Pre-Existing Health Conditions.” “‘Creating exemptions from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance market rules can have far-reaching and unintended effects,’ said Academy Senior Health Fellow Cori Uccello. ‘These effects could include tilting the market in favor of entities with weaker benefits or solvency standards and weakening the protections for consumers with pre-existing health conditions.’” [AAA, 10/12/17]

Small Business Majority: “These Changes Would Be Bad For Small Businesses And Their Employees Because They Could Lead To Higher Premiums, Unbalanced Risk Pools And Lower-Quality Insurance.” “We are extremely disappointed this administration continues to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as evidenced today when President Trump signed an executive order allowing insurance companies to sell health insurance products across state lines and making it easier for groups to establish association health plans (AHPs). These changes would be bad for small businesses and their employees because they could lead to higher premiums, unbalanced risk pools and lower-quality insurance. While President Trump’s order would make it easier for a few select small businesses with younger and/or healthier employees to purchase association health plans that might be cheaper in other states, the tradeoff is that this would result in the emergence of parallel insurance markets for small businesses, leading to major spikes in premiums for small firms that remain in the small-group market.” [SBA, 10/12/17]

Consumers Union: “Executive Order On Health Plans Destabilizes Insurance Markets, Hurts Consumers, Drives Up Costs.” “While this executive order claims to help improve consumers’ access to affordable care, it would have the exact opposite effect. Allowing insurers to sell substandard association health plans that aren’t required to cover basic services and benefits will further fragment and destabilize the insurance markets as a whole. This action splits the market into two, pitting the healthy against those with preexisting conditions and life-threatening illnesses — but ultimately both groups lose in this new scheme.” [Consumers Union, 10/12/17]

American Federation Of Teachers: [Donald Trump] “Is Ignoring The Rule Of Law, Refusing To Compromise, And Doing An End-Run Around Congress In Order To Strip People Of Their Healthcare.” “Donald Trump owns the unwinding of the Affordable Care Act. He is ignoring the rule of law, refusing to compromise, and doing an end-run around Congress in order to strip people of their healthcare. Millions of Americans will be worse off because of his actions. This is an ongoing pattern of the Trump administration’s callous sabotage of Obamacare, and it will cause real harm to American families, leading to increased premiums and loss of coverage for those most in need of healthcare and flooding markets with cheap, limited ‘junk’ insurance.” [AFT, 10/12/17]

NETWORK Lobby: “The Trump Administration Continues To Do As Much As Possible To Destabilize The American Healthcare System, Increase Costs For Families, And Prevent People From Accessing The Care They Need.” “The Trump Administration continues to do as much as possible to destabilize the American healthcare system, increase costs for families, and prevent people from accessing the care they need. Today’s executive order is the latest attack on our healthcare, following a long line of attempts to repeal and cripple the ACA. This executive order will drive up premiums for many—especially middle-class families and people with pre-existing conditions—to further undermine the ACA. It is morally reprehensible to hurt people through unjust policies for political gain.” [Statement, 10/12/17]

ASSOCIATION HEALTH PLANS ALLOW PROVIDERS TO CHERRY PICK HEALTHIER PEOPLE, RAISING COSTS ON PEOPLE WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS AND DESTABILIZING THE MARKET

Tim Jost: “It Will Destroy The Small-Group Market…We’ll Be Back To Where We Were Before The Affordable Care Act.” “The result could in many cases be that these new association health plans would be considered large employers when it comes to health insurance. Large employers are not subject to the same rules as individual or small-group plans under Obamacare. Most notably, they do not have to cover all of the law’s essential health benefits or meet the requirement that insurance cover a minimal percentage of a person’s medical bills.If that change were made, association health plans would be freed to craft skimpier (and cheaper) health plans that appeal only to businesses with younger and healthier employees. Small businesses left in Obamacare’s marketplace would likely face higher costs and fewer options as the market became less attractive to insurers. ‘It will destroy the small-group market,’ Tim Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who generally supports Obamacare, told me before the order was signed. ‘We’ll be back to where we were before the Affordable Care Act.’” [Vox, 12/29/17]

Georgetown Center on Health Insurance Reforms: Prior To ACA, AHPs Would Set Up Headquarters In A State With Fewer Regulations And Market To States With More Regulations. “Additionally, AHPs would often set up headquarters in one state with limited regulatory oversight and market policies to businesses and consumers in other states with more robust regulation, thereby bypassing those states’ more protective rating and benefit standards.” [Georgetown Center on Health Insurance Reforms, December 2017]

Deep Banerjee, S&P Global Ratings: “No One Healthy Is Now Going To Sign Up In The ACA Risk Pool, Because They Have This Cheaper Option.” “With associations, health care providers can effectively choose the most desirable participants, allowing the healthy to make the switch to save money — and potentially shutting out the less healthy. ‘No one healthy is now going to sign up in the ACA risk pool, because they have this cheaper option,’ Deep Banerjee, a health care analyst at S&P Global Ratings said.” [UPI, 10/12/17]