Association health plans bills: Two sides of the coin

virginia general assembly
Photo Credit: traveler1116/iStock Photo

Virginia REALTORS® is asking Gov. Ralph Northam to sign into law House Bill 795 and Senate Bill 235, which allow for the creation of association health plans.

Virginia AARP: not a fan.

The bills passed the General Assembly this week with nearly unanimous, bipartisan support. Senate Bill 235, sponsored by Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, passed the Senate 40-0 and the House 93-3.

House Bill 795, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, passed the House 93-3 and the Senate 39-0.

Virginia REALTORS® backs the bill because the legislation would give associations the ability to work with insurance providers in Virginia to establish the same type of health plans that large employers offer to their employees.

Large employer plans are just as comprehensive as individual market plans but are more affordable for Virginians who are not eligible for government assistance under the Affordable Care Act.

“The passage of SB235 marks a major milestone in increasing affordable quality healthcare to a large group of Virginians who for too long have gone without,” Barker said. “I was proud to work with the Virginia REALTORS® over the past year to craft this legislation and applaud them for their tireless work on behalf of their members. The unanimous votes in the Senate speaks to the popularity of this idea, and we urge Gov. Northam to sign SB235.”

“Expanding Medicaid went a long way to increase access to healthcare, but there still exists a forgotten group of middle-income earners who cannot afford the coverage they need. Constituents in my district need an option for affordable healthcare, and HB 795 will finally deliver that option,” Hurst said. “I hope that Gov. Northam will sign this bill for my constituents and the thousands more across the Commonwealth who have waited for this option.”

But Virginia AARP is adamantly opposed to the bills, and a third associations health plans bill, SB 861, sponsored by Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, that passed the Senate 35-2 back in January, but then met with some opposition in the House before ultimately passing by a 57-41 vote on March 2.

“While AARP Virginia appreciates efforts to increase access to healthcare for more Virginians, Senate Bill 861, and two other similar bills, could have a calamitous impact on older and sicker individuals,” said AARP Virginia State Director Jim Dau, who sent a letter to every member of the House of Delegates on Thursday, urging them to reject the measure.

AARP opposes such plans because, according to the organization, they would permit insurers to charge older people more than current law allows, amounting to what AARP says would be an “age tax.”

Association health plans can fragment the market, with younger, healthier people moving to the AHPs, leaving older or sicker people in traditional insurance plans, driving up their costs, AARP says.

“As a doctor, Gov. Northam should know better than most the plight of people with weak or no insurance,” Dau said. “As our governor, he should veto these bad bills that would put more people at risk of facing that dilemma.”

And then there’s the side of REALTORS®. Terrie Suit, CEO of Virginia REALTORS®, notes that the vast majority of REALTORS® are independent contractors, and as such don’t have access to typical employer-based benefits.

“We find that in any given year, around 20-percent of our nearly 35,000 members, about 7,000 people, go without health insurance because they can’t afford the high out-of-pocket costs on the individual marketplace. Often, those premiums can rival the cost of a home mortgage,” Suit said.

“We support the administration’s broader efforts to lower health care costs for all Virginians and believe association health plans can be an early piece of that puzzle,” said Martin Johnson, senior vice president for government relations for the Virginia REALTORS®. “These bills require fully insured, ACA-compliant plans that, while bringing costs down, will provide much-needed options for members of our organization that go without.

“We ask the governor to sign these bills into law and give our members a chance to find affordable health care coverage for themselves and their families,” Johnson said. “Outside of an association health plan option, where do we tell our members who have already been priced out of the individual market to go to find health insurance coverage for themselves and their families?”

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press news