Restaurant Association Launches Association Health Plan

The National Restaurant Association’s new Restaurant & Hospitality Association Benefit Trust, designed for restaurants and hospitality businesses with fewer than 100 employees, comes at a time when association health plans are a major topic of debate in Washington.

The chatter around association health plans (AHPs), a concept that has gained interest in the policy sphere in recent months, could grow further with a fresh real-world example from one of the country’s most prominent trade groups.

The National Restaurant Association on Tuesday announced the launch of the Restaurant & Hospitality Association (RHA) Benefit Trust, a program for member companies that would extend health insurance to small businesses that may otherwise struggle to gain access to plans.

The program, built for companies with up to 99 employees eligible for insurance, will be serviced by UnitedHealthcare. In a news release, National Restaurant Association CEO Dawn Sweeney said the program “provides a competitive edge to small businesses by offering them an array of flexibly priced health benefits tailored to their needs.”

“Restaurant employees are our greatest asset, and we want to ensure that they receive the best healthcare available,” Sweeney said. “This is why the Restaurant & Hospitality Association Benefit Trust has been specifically designed to assist our smaller members with employee retention.”

The announcement comes as the U.S. Department of Labor is crafting a proposal to expand association health plans to cover more people who work for small employers or are self-employed, responding to an executive order by President Donald Trump last fall. DOL issued a set of proposed rules for such plans in January, drawing a mixed reaction and a variety of comments.

ASAE submitted comments focusing on what types of organizations should qualify as an “employer” for the purposes of establishing an AHP and who could participate in these plans, as well as the complexities involved in state regulation of AHPs.

“The viability of an AHP will be severely constrained if the AHP must comply with the myriad of differing regulations in each state,” ASAE stated in February. “While an AHP within a single jurisdiction might be successful, most industries and professions cross many state lines.”

The Labor Department’s proposal is controversial because it would allow health plans that do not fully comply with the Affordable Care Act. The proposed rules were criticized by a group of Democratic state attorneys general last month.

Meanwhile, some states  are actively supporting such plans in what opponents say is an effort to work around the Obama-era heath law. On Monday, Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a measure that allows insurers to offer “health benefit plans” with limited coverage. The Iowa law also makes room for association health plans.

The National Restaurant Association emphasized that the RHA Benefit Trust is compliant with the Affordable Care Act.

“In the restaurant industry, and in many others, supporting association health plans is a key step in increasing access to healthcare, reducing costs, and providing an essential benefit to recruit and retain talented team members,” Sweeney said in the news release.

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