Chambers of commerce remain bullish on association health plans, despite judge’s ruling 

Despite a judge’s ruling last week that left association health plans in flux, state and local chambers of commerce are still committed to pushing forward with such plans. 

Katie Mahoney, vice president for health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said on a call with reporters Wednesday that the national chamber held a call with its state and local counterparts following the decision, and while there is concern about the future, the chambers are still focused on growing AHPs. 

“This is a really important policy priority for them,” Mahoney said. "A lot of the chambers are continuing to be optimistic about moving forward despite some uncertainty.” 

District of Columbia Judge John Bates ruled on Thursday that the Trump administration’s plan to expand association health plans overstepped legal boundaries with the goal of skirting Affordable Care Act coverage requirements. 

Bates said the Department of Labor exceeded its authority under the Employee Retirement Security Income Act (ERISA) with the rule, which was finalized last summer

RELATED: State approaches to short-term, association health plans vary, experts say 

Critics of such plans say they’re “junk” insurance as they lack the ACA’s consumer protections for other plans and could leave people with pre-existing medical conditions in the lurch. 

Mahoney said that state and local chambers of commerce, however, are offering “very robust, substantial coverage” under the expansion and that there are several consumer protections baked into the Labor Department’s regulation. 

For one, association health plans launched under the rule are not allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, she said. 

“The coverage is good coverage, and it has significant consumer protections included in its regulatory framework,” she said. 

Under the rule, more than 100 chambers have backed 16 association plans, Mahoney said, covering about 20,000 people. The chambers expect to have 300,000 members by 2020, she said. 

Though many chambers are still enthusiastic about the prospect of AHPs, Mahoney said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is concerned that the ruling could lead to fewer new plan launches. 

“We are very concerned at the uncertainty that this throws” into the situation, she said.