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Association health plans—which have been advocated for by the housing industry, but contentiously debated—were dealt a setback on Thursday, with a critical expansion to the plans rejected.

On Thursday, Judge John Bates, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, blocked the expansion, stating it “avoids the most stringent requirements of the Affordable Care Act.” The expansion would have granted the housing industry—particularly REALTORS®, who are often self-employed—access to affordable health insurance plans.

Association health plans, or AHPs, allow associations—including groups of small businesses—to collaborate on group health insurance for their membership. In Oct. 2017, the Trump Administration authorized expanding the offering. In June, the U.S. Department of Labor finalized a rule that, among other provisions, broadened its definition of “employer” to include “sole proprietors,” a classification held by many REALTORS®.

Critics have maintained that the rule undermines the ACA because it allows for healthier individuals to migrate to an AHP, instead of an ACA marketplace, driving up premiums for the sick.

“The final rule was intended and designed to end-run the requirements of the ACA,” Judge Bates stated.

The National Association of REALTORS® denounced the ruling on Thursday.

“As independent contractors, REALTORS® have long struggled to find and secure affordable health insurance options,” said NAR President John Smaby. “This is why NAR strongly supports the U.S. Department of Labor’s final rule expanding access to association health plans. This rule has been successful and is growing in many states, providing high-quality, lower-cost coverage alternatives to many of NAR’s 1.3 million members and their families. We are extremely disappointed in this week’s District Court decision, which threatens the progress REALTORS® Associations have made in offering much-needed health insurance solutions. NAR is reviewing this ruling to determine its potential nationwide impact and we vow to continue to fight for more affordable, quality health insurance options for our members.”

An appeal is expected.

Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at