A new survey from AssociationHealthPlans.com shows overwhelming public support for small companies collaborating together to offer "large company" health insurance plans to their employees.
The findings are timely given a recent Department of Labor update to association health plan regulation that has made it easier for small businesses to band together to offer the same type of health insurance coverage offered by large companies.
Large company health insurance leverages the buying power of many plan participants and is typically less expensive than small group and individually purchased health plans.
The survey found 77.6 percent of survey respondents answered "yes"in response to the question: "Should small businesses and sole-proprietors be allowed to band together to offer the same kind of lower-cost health insurance plans that large companies already offer?"
That's more than three times higher than those that oppose the rule (22 percent).
While public opposition to small businesses banding together to collaborate on large group health plans is limited -- roughly one in five respondents across the country disapproved -- political opposition to the measure is more pronounced. The new regulation was issued through the efforts of a Republican administration, and as such attracted criticism from a dozen Democratic attorneys general who filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the new regulation.
Also, some insurers warn of market instability in allowing for any insurance that gets around Affordable Care Act mandates to cover essential benefits and pre-existing conditions.
The ACA mandates that all individual and small group plans cover ten essential health benefits. Association health plans would not be subject to these consumer protections.
But the results of the survey found not only strong support at the national level, but the same level of support was observed in the states sponsoring the lawsuit. In fact, the level of support in those states was slightly higher: 78.6 percent for the 11 states and D.C. versus 77.6 percent for the nation as a whole.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia sued the federal government in July over its proposed final rule to allow for association health plans that get around the Affordable Care Act's mandate to provide essential benefits. The states said the final rule is unlawful and want it declared invalid.
In June, the Department of Labor proposed a final rule, effective August 20, that establishes more flexible criteria under ERISA, the Retirement Income Security Act, for determining when employers may join together in a group to form association health plans. AHPs expand access to affordable health coverage, especially for employees of small employers and certain self-employed individuals, according to the final rule.