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The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has expressed its support for a proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Labor that could make it easier for small businesses and self-employed individuals to purchase health insurance through association health plans, or AHPs.

According to NAR, the proposed regulation, which modifies and broadens the definition of “employer” to include “working owners,” opens the door to potentially allowing trade associations, including NAR, to offer health insurance coverage to members through the large group insurance market. The large group insurance market typically offers greater flexibility in insurance plan design and lower policy costs through improved negotiating power.

In a comment letter submitted this week, NAR recommended changes to the proposed eligibility requirements to maximize participation among self-employed real estate professionals. NAR encouraged the Department of Labor to reconsider a provision preventing working owners from participating in an employer health plan if subsidized coverage is available to them through a spouse’s employer, since that may not always be the most affordable option for a family.

“As health insurance costs continue to rise and the number of coverage options shrink, the need for affordable health care option remains a top concern for the nation’s 1.3 million REALTORS®,” says NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall. “Allowing working owners to participate in AHPs could expand access and provide more reasonably priced health insurance options for individuals and families.

“Eliminating this requirement will provide greater insurance choices to more real estate professionals, many of whom are struggling to find affordable insurance,” Mendenhall says. “We urge the Administration and the Department of Labor to move forward with our recommendations in mind, and while challenges likely remain ahead that could delay its completion, we have strong hope that a final rule will be issued sometime in the near future and real estate professionals will have improved access to affordable health insurance.”

While most Americans get their health coverage through an employer, most real estate agents, and nearly nine in 10 REALTORS®, are independent contractors, not employees, of their real estate brokerage. As an independent contractor, many typically don’t have access to traditional employer-provided benefits, such as 401(k) plans and health insurance, since these types of benefits could jeopardize their independent contractor status. As a result, self-employed professionals are forced to purchase insurance in the individual insurance market, which tends to offer fewer choices at higher costs.

NAR’s 2017 Member Profile found that 46 percent of members paid for their health insurance out of pocket; 32 percent received it through a spouse, partner, or family member; 3 percent had employer-provided health insurance; and 20 percent didn’t have any health insurance at all.

As next steps, the Department of Labor will be reviewing the hundreds of comments submitted and issue a final rule reflecting that feedback likely later this year. That rule could then be used by insurers for plan design; however, the final rule may be subject to legal challenges that could delay implementation.

For more information, please visit www.nar.realtor/health-care-reform.

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