Georgia joins legal fight over association health plans

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. (PHOTO by Annie Rice/AJC)

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. (PHOTO by Annie Rice/AJC)

State Attorney General Chris Carr has joined a legal push to allow more health plans that are exempt from Affordable Care Act requirements.

Carr’s move lends the state’s support to a lawsuit over whether the Trump administration can expand the use of “association health plans.” Such plans may offer members the choice to pay less, but for less coverage.

A federal judge called the arguments the administration made to open up the plans’ use “absurd” and said the move was an end run around the ACA. The administration has appealed.

Right now the ACA, also known as Obamacare, requires most health insurance plans to cover 10 “essential health benefits,” including mental health care and prescription coverage. But association health plans are exempted from that requirement, much like “medi-share” plans that are held by people of the same religious faith and aren’t really insurance. Association health plans also don’t have as many consumer protections as regular insurance.

The plans have been used by associations such as chambers of commerce. The U.S. Department of Labor wants to loosen the rules on why people can join an association plan. Under its proposal, people could form an association simply because they all wanted the same health plan.

The administration says that the plans may not cover as much, but they give businesses a choice.

Opponents say that choice puts the patient and care providers at risk by not covering common necessary services. They say the plans siphon healthier people out of the main insurance market, making the regular plans even more expensive.

Carr’s move joined Georgia to a legal brief signed by Texas and several other mostly Southern conservative states supporting the appeal.

“If implemented, this rule will have a positive effect on Georgia small-business owners and employees by providing them more options and greater predictability for affordable healthcare,” Carr said in a statement.

Last year Carr also put Georgia's support behind a Texas lawsuit demanding the entire Affordable Care Act be struck down. One judge has ruled in their favor, and the suit is under appeal.

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