The National Association of Realtors® offered its support today for expanded association health plans in testimony(link is external) before the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.
At the hearing, about affordable health care options and the Department of Labor’s recently proposed AHP rule, NAR spoke in favor of DOL’s proposal to enable self-employed individuals to participate in association health plans.
NAR recently submitted comments(link is external) on the proposed rule, which clarifies the definition of “employer” to include “working owners,” or sole proprietors, independent contractors and self-employed individuals with no employees. The rule proposes to expand health insurance options available to those individuals, which includes real estate professionals – the majority of whom are independent contractors and typically do not have access to employer-provided health insurance coverage.
The rule opens the door to potentially allowing associations, including NAR, to offer health insurance coverage to its members through the large group insurance market, which usually offers more coverage options at lower costs than the individual insurance market. NAR believes that allowing working owners to access health coverage through a fully insured large group or self-insured AHP could improve members’ ability to find comprehensive health coverage at a more affordable price.
“The challenges facing the nation’s small business and independent contractor community when searching for affordable health insurance continue to grow each year, as costs rise and options diminish,” said Mike McGrew, a Realtor® for more than 30 years in Lawrence, Kansas and former NAR treasurer. “Reducing the cost of health insurance while maintaining quality coverage is a priority for NAR, a priority that is shared by the growing number of small businesses and self-employed Americans who are part of every sector of our economy.”
The need for more affordable health insurance options is a top concern among real estate professionals too; more than half of NAR’s members pay for their health insurance out of pocket and one in five doesn’t have any health insurance at all, according to an annual member survey. McGrew said when real estate agents and brokers forgo health insurance, the primary reason cited is the cost of premiums, copays and deductibles, and this is why NAR seeks additional health insurance options for its membership.
In his testimony, McGrew applauded the DOL and the proposal but recommended changes to the proposed eligibility criteria preventing working owners from participating in an employer health plan if subsidized coverage is available to them through a spouse’s employer. Nearly one-third of NAR’s members receive health insurance coverage through a spouse, partner or family member, but it may not always be the most affordable option. McGrew said eliminating this requirement and clarifying how state regulations would impact the new AHPs could help expand insurance options and access to even more self-employed real estate professionals.
“Clarifying that states may continue to regulate AHPs as they do now, but may not use existing authorities to undermine access to AHPs is also essential for the success of plans under the final rule,” said McGrew. He said NAR is encouraged by the administration’s focus on making improvements in this area and thanked the committee for its attention to the health insurance challenges facing self-employed real estate professionals across the country.
Additional information on NAR’s health insurance advocacy efforts is at www.nar.realtor/health-care-reform.