WASHINGTON – June 20, 2018 – The Department of Labor released a final rule Tuesday that makes it possible for real estate professionals to participate in an association health plan (AHP), though it's not a done deal – hurdles remain, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).
"After years of advocating for independent contractors' right to pursue coverage through association health plans, NAR welcomes today's Department of Labor ruling," says Elizabeth Mendenhall, president of NAR.
While the approval is good news, NAR also offers a word of caution: "This rule is not a panacea when it comes to obtaining comprehensive coverage, and the cost to provide that coverage," NAR said in a media release. "The rule makes 'working owners' eligible to participate in an AHP and defines the term to include self-employed individuals or small-business owners who don't have employees working for them, which would include most real estate professionals."
NAR considers one element of the approved rule a major win.
"The final rule extends eligibility to all working owners – including those who have access to subsidized insurance through a spouse's employer plan," NAR said in the release. "In the proposed version of the rule, these working owners were excluded from eligibility on the assumption they already have affordable insurance available to them."
NAR, state and local associations, and individual Realtor members urged the administration to remove the limitation on coverage if a member has the option to get coverage through a spouse's health insurance plan – and their advocacy was successful.
"NAR applauds the (Department of Labor) for the latest rulemaking and hopes that legal and other challenges do not extensively delay the rule's implementation and future enrollment periods," says NAR CEO Bob Goldberg.
What happens next?
Even with the favorable rule passage, hurdles might prevent individuals from enrolling in any AHPs immediately, NAR analysts say. Among other things, lawsuits challenging the rule are expected, and they could muddy the legal picture for a period of time.
In the meantime, NAR says it will work with insurance specialists to explore the feasibility of an AHP option for real estate professionals. About 11 percent of NAR's 1.3 million members currently don't have health insurance, while 31 percent have coverage through a spouse and about 16 percent through Medicare.
"NAR has already begun work with health insurance experts and providers on potential next steps to help secure high-quality health insurance for all of our members and their families.," says Goldberg.