AVMA Life optimistic that it will resume health insurance

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Drs. Harrell and McClure with Mr. Acosta
The AVMA was invited to a rollout of the new Department of Labor rule allowing for resumption of some association health plans. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, held the event in Knoxville, Tennessee. Here, Dr. Phyliss Harrell of Monroe County Animal Hospital in Tennessee and Dr. Kent McClure (right), AVMA chief government relations officer, pose for a photo with Acosta. (Courtesy of Dr. Kent McClure)

AVMA Life is cautiously optimistic that it will be able to resume offering health insurance to some AVMA members, perhaps as soon as next year.

Dr. Joe Kinnarney, chair of AVMA Life, said, "As a former AVMA president, I have heard from members all over the country that they miss AVMA health care plans and are anxious for AVMA to once again offer that member benefit."

He continued: "I can tell you that trustees are exploring the possibility of once again offering health care insurance. If it makes sense and is in the best interest of our members, we will pursue offering this to our members."

Formerly the AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust, AVMA Life had to discontinue directly offering health insurance to AVMA members after 2013 because of provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The Trust developed a health insurance exchange instead.

"We have been working tirelessly since then for a more favorable legal landscape," said Dr. Kent McClure, AVMA chief government relations officer.

On June 19, the Department of Labor issued a final rule allowing for the resumption of some association health plans, following up on an executive order signed last fall by President Donald Trump. The AVMA was invited to a rollout of the new rule hosted by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

The new rule is complex, Dr. McClure said, but the AVMA and AVMA Life are working to address the legal, regulatory, and business issues involved in sponsoring a health care plan under the new rules.

"While much remains to be determined, the desire is to offer a program with options tailored to the needs of veterinarians that would allow potential inclusion of veterinarian employers and self-employed, employees, and families," Dr. McClure said. "What is clear is that a new program will not look exactly like the former AVMA health insurance program."

In an additional wrinkle that underscores the complexity of the situation, Dr. McClure said, a number of states filed a lawsuit July 26 to stop the implementation of the new rule. He said, "This was expected but shows there is some uncertainty."

AVMA | Life Veterinarian Inspired Coverage Libby Wallace, chief executive officer of AVMA Life, spoke about the Trust's situation in her address to a July 12 meeting of a committee of the AVMA House of Delegates, which held its regular annual session in conjunction with AVMA Convention 2018 in Denver.

"In the past when we offered medical insurance, it was really at the individual level, so each of you as individuals could have medical insurance," Wallace said. The new regulations are based on an employee-employer relationship, she said, but a sole proprietor could now qualify.

Another challenge is that AVMA Life would offer health insurance on a national basis rather than a regional basis, she said, but the regulations were put into effect with chambers of commerce and state departments of tourism in mind.

"We're going to try to put the best possible plans in place as we can and to do that as quickly as we can, but I would say that we are looking at all options right now," Wallace said.

Under the regulations, association health plans could take effect Sept. 1, but a more realistic time frame will be sometime in 2019.

According to a June 20 update from the AVMA and AVMA Life, the Trust or a related entity might be able to offer health insurance as an "association of employers." According to the update, "This means veterinarians who are employers—including those who are self-employed—might be eligible to purchase group health insurance for themselves, their families and their employees through the AVMA family."

Also according to the update: "To the fullest extent possible, we will shape any future health insurance products to meet our members' needs. While this rule may not be perfect, AVMA LIFE welcomes the opportunity to resume offering health insurance to AVMA members in some form."

Related JAVMA content:

AVMA Life offers 'Veterinarian Inspired Coverage' (Feb. 1, 2016)

AVMA GHLIT medical insurance to end after 2013 (Feb. 15, 2013)