AVMA plans re-entry into group health insurance arena

Government stance that ended AVMA Life medical coverage is reversed

October 24, 2018 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

AVMA Life is "cautiously optimistic" that it can once again offer group health insurance to AVMA members.

AVMA Life, an arm of the American Veterinary Medical Association that sells a variety of insurance products to veterinarians, made the announcement last week on the group's blog. The post said the impetus for the change is a U.S. Department of Labor decision in June to ease restrictions contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly called Obamacare.

The Labor Department's final rule reflects President Donald Trump's October 2017 executive order directing agencies to expand the availability of association health plans.

"The AVMA family provided quality health coverage to AVMA members for nearly 60 years before regulatory changes forced an end to those plans in 2013," the blog post said. "Since the U.S. Department of Labor announced its new rule allowing association health plans in June, we've been working with insurance experts to understand the technicalities of the rule and evaluate all options for resuming coverage for our members.

"We expect that veterinarians who are employers — including those who are self-employed — will be eligible to purchase group health insurance for themselves, their families and their employees through the AVMA family."

When they'll be able to do so, though, is undetermined. The blog post said rolling out a new program will take time due to a "complicated web of federal and state regulations." 

AVMA Life CEO Libby Wallace could not be reached immediately to discuss the likelihood that the program will develop successfully. However, Dr. Kent McClure, chief of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C., expressed confidence when speaking at an AVMA House of Delegates meeting in July.

"Given the Department of Labor public ruling, it looks like it will again let associations enter the space of offering health plans," McClure said. "We worked very hard to get this rule published. …And [AVMA Life is] working extremely diligently to pore through this. When the time is right, we will provide the very best options available for veterinarians and their staff in this new environment."

The PPACA was signed into law in March 2010, and rolled out over several years. AVMA Life, previously known as the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust, was forced to close its group health insurance program in 2013. The change affected some 17,500 veterinarians and their families.

(AVMA Life has maintained its individual insurance programs such as dental and vision coverage, disability, hospital indemnity and other insurance offerings.)

Under the PPACA, insurance carriers were not allowed to limit coverage to select groups of people, such as members of an association, but were compelled to offer coverage to the general public. The law also made association health insurance plans and premiums subject to approval by departments of insurance in each state and the District of Columbia, rather than allowing them to provide blanket programs nationally.

AVMA's carrier at the time, New York Life Insurance Company, was one of many companies that chose instead to leave the medical insurance market altogether. 

While the new Labor Department rule allows associations to sell health insurance to members only, it doesn't change the provision that plans are subject to states' approval. That is a complicated endeavor because of differing state regulations.

AVMA Life has selected HUB International to handle medical insurance under the new rules.

Editor's note: This article was amended to clarify AVMA Life's current insurance offerings and its plans to roll out health coverage on a state-by-state basis, beginning next year. In a post-publication interview, CEO Libby Wallace said AVMA Life will provide a "pathway for veterinarians to cover their entire practices" with health insurance. "There is more to come; we are making progress," she said.  

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