Compliance Check: DOL Releases New Proposed Regulations for Association Health Plans

Written by benefitexpress | January 15, 2018

As a benefits pro, you're an invaluable resource for your employees and clients. But what do you do when even you don't have the answers? Compliance expert Larry Grudzien is here to help.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed regulations to expand the opportunity to offer employment-based health insurance to small businesses through Small Business Health Plans, also known as Association Health Plans.

Up to 11 million Americans working for small businesses/sole proprietors and their families lack employer-sponsored insurance. These 11 million Americans could find coverage under this proposal. Many small employers struggle to offer insurance because it is currently too expensive and cumbersome. These employees - and their families - would have an additional alternative through Small Business Health Plans (Association Health Plans). These plans would close the gap of uninsured without eliminating options available in the healthcare marketplace.

Under the proposal regulations, small businesses and sole proprietors would have more freedom to band together to provide affordable, quality health insurance for employees. 

The proposed regulations, which applies only to employer-sponsored health insurance, would allow employers to join together as a single group to purchase insurance in the large group market. These improvements stand to open health insurance coverage for millions of Americans and their families by making it more affordable for thousands of small businesses and sole proprietors. By joining together, employers may reduce administrative costs through economies of scale, strengthen their bargaining position to obtain more favorable deals, enhance their ability to self-insure, and offer a wider array of insurance options. 

As proposed, the regulations would:

  • Allow employers to form a Small Business Health Plan on the basis of geography or industry. A plan could serve employers in a state, city, county, or a multi-state metro area, or it could serve all the businesses in a particular industry nationwide;
  • Allow sole proprietors to join Small Business Health Plans, clearing a path to access health insurance for the millions of uninsured Americans who are sole proprietors or the family of sole proprietors.


The proposed regulations includes important protections for Americans. Small Business Health Plans (Association Health Plans) cannot charge individuals higher premiums based on health factors or refuse to admit employees to a plan because of health factors. The Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration will closely monitor these plans to protect consumers.

 For copy of the proposed regulations, click here.


Lawrence (Larry) Grudzien, JD, LLM is an attorney practicing exclusively in the field of employee benefits. He has experience in dealing with qualified plans, health and welfare, fringe benefits, and executive compensation areas. He has more than 35 years' experience in employee benefit law. He can be found on his website, or email him at larry@larrygrudzien.com.

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Topics: HIPAA, For Brokers & Consultants