Lawmakers explain new health care rules aimed at helping small businesses

Local News

President Trump’s administration is rolling out a new change to health care finalized just this week. The rule covers what are known as Association Health Plans which allow small businesses to come together and buy health insurance coverage.

Proponents say it would give them the kind of buying power that larger companies enjoy and hopefully some savings in the process.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Tennessee’s Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance, Julie Mix-McPeak, came to Knoxville on Friday to explain that new rule.

Secretary Acosta estimates four million Americans will access insurance through an Association Health Plan and part of that group includes 400,000 people who are currently uninsured.

There are more than 580,000 small businesses in Tennessee and 1.1 million people working for those locally owned businesses, at last count by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

When it comes to insurance, Secretary Acosta says fewer and fewer small businesses offer healthcare coverage. 

“Because it has gotten so expensive. The rules for small employers are actually more burdensome and there is more regulation and more restrictions,” said Acosta.

He explained the Association Health Plan. 

“Imagine if all the small businesses here in Knoxville could come together under an association, like the chamber, and access healthcare in the same way as a Fortune 500 corporation. The same protections, the same rules, the association would simply have the advantages of buying power.”

Secretary Acosta says there is no minimum number of businesses needing to join, the larger the association, the greater the benefits.

“That means insurance should be several thousand dollars cheaper a year per policy and it will have the same kind of protections including protections for pre-existing conditions,” said Alexander.

The State Department of Commerce and Insurance has been talking policy with lawmakers for more than a year, focusing on affordability and accessibility issues.

“States have the responsibility for making sure these Association Health Plans are liquid and solid,” explained Alexander.

Lawmakers believe the new rule is beneficial to so many.

“My message here today is that we are willing to work with anyone who thinks this might be a benefit to them to form an association under regulation of the Department of Commerce and Insurance and that we’re happy to work with individuals answer any questions, see what we can do to get these plans up and going,” said Commissioner Mix-McPeak.

While some leaders are upbeat, there are critics. Two states are suing President Trump’s administration, New York and Massachusetts. Their Attorneys General believe the Association Health Plans will invite fraud, mismanagement, and deception. Democrats call them ‘junk’ plans saying the move aims to sabotage Obamacare.

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