Health insurance plans could soon return as AVMA member benefit

AVMA Life anticipates 2019 rollout
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AVMA LIFE logoThis summer, the AVMA could once again offer health insurance plans to AVMA members after a hiatus of roughly five years.

The new insurance plans are anticipated to be available as early as July 1, 2019, in at least 10 states—a number expected to grow in the future—to practices with between two and 50 employees. An ongoing legal challenge brought by several states against association health plans could postpone or threaten the plans' availability, but the AVMA is moving forward to make sure AVMA plans are available as soon as it is possible.

Dr. Joe Kinnarney, chair of AVMA Life, announced the Association's intent to return to the health insurance market while speaking Jan. 11 at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago.

"This is a big win for our members," Dr. Kinnarney said. "As the program gradually rolls out, more and more AVMA members will be able to provide competitive benefits to their employees."

Health insurance plans were a member benefit for nearly 60 years, until 2013, when New York Life Insurance Co. announced it would no longer underwrite association health plans. Regulatory requirements of the Affordable Care Act were the cause for its decision, the company said. Other insurers declined to work with the AVMA, citing similar concerns.

The AVMA has since advocated through its Government Relations Division to make association health plans viable again. In conjunction with other professional associations, the AVMA helped launch the Coalition to Protect and Promote AHPs to work with state and federal insurance officials to implement the framework for association health plans to ensure that the marketplace is viable and successful.

A new regulatory framework finalized by the Trump administration precipitated the return of association health plans. In June 2018, the Department of Labor released regulations to expand the criteria for small businesses to band together to form association health plans.

The AHP rule allows small businesses to band together on the basis of common geography and industry, thus strengthening their negotiating power with insurance carriers, reducing administrative costs, and allowing them to purchase the types of coverage typically only available to large employers.

Dr. Kinnarney cautioned the VLC audience that the new insurance plans will not look exactly like the old plans. AVMA Life trustees are working with legal, actuarial, and broker partners on the new plans, with a target delivery date this July, he said.

While associations, such as the AVMA, are eager to move forward under the new framework, few AHPs have officially launched so far. The delay, Dr. Kinnarney explained, is a consequence of complex state and federal insurance laws and regulations. For example, association health plans must be negotiated and approved by each state's insurance commissioner, and there are 12 states currently suing to block the new regulations from moving forward.

Dr. Kinnarney added, "Fortunately, most states are in the process of easing their policies to allow AHPs."

Related JAVMA content:

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