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Trump clears way for health plans with lower costs but fewer benefits

As many as 11 million Americans could find coverage under the new health plans

Washington

THE Trump administration is poised to issue a sweeping rule that makes it easier for small businesses to band together to create health insurance plans that skirt many requirements of the Affordable Care Act, offering lower costs but also fewer benefits.

The final rule is to be unveiled on Tuesday, said administration officials and congressional aides.

President Donald Trump has said millions of people could get cheaper coverage from the new "association health plans". But consumer groups and many state officials are opposed, saying the new plans will siphon healthy people out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace, driving up costs for those who need comprehensive insurance.

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The new entities would be exempt from many of the consumer protections mandated by the Affordable Care Act. They may, for example, not have to provide certain "essential health benefits" like mental health care, emergency services, maternity and newborn care, and prescription drugs.

As many as 11 million Americans could find coverage under the new health plans, the Labor Department said in drafting the rule, which carries out an executive order signed by Mr Trump on Oct 12.

The rule will allow small-business owners, their employees, sole proprietors and other self-employed people to join together to buy or provide insurance in the large-group market through association health plans.

Because they will be exempted from many onerous requirements of the 2010 health law, Mr Trump has said, the association health plans can "provide more affordable health insurance options to many Americans, including hourly wage earners, farmers, and the employees of small businesses and entrepreneurs that fuel economic growth".

The new rule takes a step towards fulfilling his campaign promise to make it easier for companies sell insurance across state lines.

"The new rule will allow national trade associations to offer insurance to their employer members in multiple states," said Christopher Condeluci, an employee benefits lawyer who used to work for Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee.

"Small employers and independent contractors will be able to get coverage through group health plans, just like the insurance offered by large employers."

Republicans in Congress have been trying for two decades to promote association health plans through legislation. The House passed a Bill that included such plans in 1998, but it died in the Senate.

President George Bush tried again in 2003 and 2004. The House passed a Bill last year to authorise such health plans. NYTIMES