For real estate professionals, health insurance can be a source of frustration. Often costly and with hefty restrictions for more affordable options, comprehensive health benefits are not easily accessible for today’s self-employed population. That’s why the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)—a founding member of the Coalition to Promote and Protect Association Health Plans—and other industry groups have been lobbying in support of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Association Health Plan (AHP) rule. In addition, multiple brokerages have recently made strides in offering their own benefits.
“We’re encouraged to see so many associations from across the country demonstrate their public support of association health plans,” said NAR President John Smaby, a second-generation REALTOR® and broker at Edina Realty in Edina, Minn., in a recent statement. “The DOL’s rule opens the door for REALTORS® to access affordable, high-quality healthcare options that can be so difficult for independent contractors to find. Moving forward, we’re hopeful that our work alongside these local partners will help secure the healthcare solutions that our members and their families deserve.”
How have industry professionals managed thus far?
According to several NAR surveys, 28-33 percent of REALTORS® are uninsured in any given year and about 46 percent pay out-of-pocket for their health insurance. Many of today’s real estate agents qualify for Medicare and/or Medicaid; however, individual insurance is also a go-to for numerous industry professionals. According to eHealth, on average, monthly premiums for single coverage health insurance without Affordable Care Act subsidies is $393. For those with families, the price skyrockets to $1,021. High deductibles are also a trend with these plans, hovering around $4,328 for individuals and $8,352 for families, on average.
More affordable options include Small Business Health Options Plans (SHOP), Small Business Health Plans (SBHPs) and AHPs. SHOP plans could soon be eliminated or drastically altered, however—they are tied to the fate of the Affordable Care Act, which is once again in question, battling in court against claims that the health law is unconstitutional. NAR provides members with access to its REALTORS® Insurance Marketplace, a shopping platform that allows users to compare the costs and coverages of health and wellness insurance plans.
With the DOL’s rule, over 3,000 REALTORS® have been able to access cost-effective health insurance benefits through AHPs; however, only a few local REALTOR® Associations are benefiting from the program, while for others the implementation has been delayed due to litigation concerns, according to NAR. Should the AHP rule be eliminated, thousands would be at risk of losing their current health insurance coverage.
What are the DOL challenges and has progress been made?
In March, Judge John. D Bates flagged major provisions in the DOL’s AHP rule as unlawful, citing that some “employers” were missing a required commonality of interest, and using the rule to simply avoid the Affordable Care Act. This ruling, currently being appealed by the Department of Justice, could have major implications for REALTORS® looking for more affordable health benefits.
In response, NAR received a flurry of support from over 200 industry groups and associations, many of which are currently offering AHPs to members, including Kentucky REALTORS®, Michigan REALTORS® in Alabama, the Greater Las Vegas Association of REALTORS®, the Indiana Association of REALTORS®, the Nevada REALTORS® and the Connecticut Association of REALTORS®, Inc.
“Supporting the Department of Labor’s rulemaking will continue to help safeguard our members’ ability to join an association health plan,” said Kentucky REALTORS® President Rip Phillips in a statement. “Ensuring the freedom to choose quality coverage is key to cultivating a deep participant pool and strong marketplace, and Kentucky REALTORS® will continue to support the DOL’s efforts to expand these options in Kentucky and across the nation.”
“Thanks to this overwhelming, outspoken support of association health plans, the court and opposing states are beginning to recognize how truly valuable the Department of Labor’s rule is to America’s REALTOR® and to independent contractors across the nation,” Smaby said in a statement. “We thank these REALTOR® associations for their support and will continue to do whatever possible to ensure affordable, high-quality options are available to our members and their families.”
What other initiatives are taking place within the real estate space?
CENTURY 21 Scheetz recently announced it is offering cost-effective healthcare benefits to its 350-plus real estate professionals in Indiana as of July 1. According to the brokerage, the plan includes 24/7/365 care, reduced healthcare benefit costs (by up to 50 percent), patient advocacy, physician visits and a TruScript prescription plan.
“By delivering comprehensive, affordable healthcare and health insurance to our agents, they will be able to focus on their clients and their businesses,” Jason O’Neil, president of CENTURY 21 Scheetz, told RISMedia. “If we can take away one worry from our agents, we’ve made meaningful progress. We already have the very best agents in the business and as a company, we are committed to making the best better.”
In addition, JP & Associates REALTORS® began offering both healthcare and retirement options this past February.
“We strongly value the livelihood of our agents,” Mark Johnson, CEO of JP & Associates REALTORS®, previously said. “Not only does our Agent Health Plan service offer ideal benefits, but we are able to lower out-of-pocket expenses. Our agents may save up to 40-70 percent annually compared to their current plans, which could potentially be up to $15,000 or more a year.”
Keller Williams offers its agents discounted benefits through the KW Wellness Program, which partners with Stride Health. These benefits include tax assistance, dental, vision, health, life and accident options.
Last year, Compass partnered with IdulusHR to offer affiliated agents access to comprehensive health insurance benefits across 13 states.
“When I speak to agents around the country, their No. 1 concern is gaining access to fairly priced healthcare plans they can offer their families and their businesses,” said Robert Reffkin, founder and CEO of Compass, in a statement. “It is personally important to me that we find a way to deliver the best quality of life for our agents. I believe it is wrong to prevent one of the largest groups of hard-working entrepreneurs the basic human right to care for themselves and their families.”
HomeSmart made a similar move in January 2018, offering health benefits through Resourcing Edge to curb insurance costs for its agents. RE/MAX, meanwhile, offers benefits through its Health Plus plan, and Realogy has a comprehensive benefits and wellness program that offers numerous options for healthcare coverage, retirement planning, and more.
Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. RISMedia is the residential real estate industry’s definitive source for news and information. Email Liz your real estate news ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.