Ten years after Obamacare was signed into law, the “Affordable Care Act” has turned out to be anything but affordable for millions of hard-working Americans. Premiums have skyrocketed, and more than 25 million of our fellow citizens, many of whom are self-employed, earn too much ($50K per year or more) to qualify for subsidies from the federal government and are essentially left behind. The good news is, there is a solution. “EASE” plans (ERISA Access for the Self-Employed) enable the self-employed to obtain affordable coverage for themselves and their families, and provide a much-needed solution for the fastest growing segment in America’s workforce. The bad news is, these affordable, flexible health plans are now in jeopardy, thanks to the type of deeply-embedded bureaucrats that President Donald Trump and his Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, have called “the Deep State.”
Recent efforts by these types of career bureaucrats within the Department of Labor (DOL) to outlaw EASE only provide support for the President’s claims. More importantly, their actions provide evidence of government employees being hell-bent on preserving the status quo of Obamacare, and a misguided attempt to thwart the President’s health care agenda aimed at fixing a broken system. If these bureaucrats win, the rest of us – including the President – lose.
As the Executive Director of the EASE Alliance, a non-profit group that promotes Obamacare alternatives, I represent more than 50,000 people who currently have EASE plans, and millions more who could benefit. Thanks to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), more than 160 million people get their health insurance through employer-sponsored plans. The overwhelming majority of working Americans like their coverage, and ERISA plans aren’t subsidized by taxpayers.
The huge group left behind by Obamacare includes traditionally self-employed people such as truckers and realtors, plus millions of independent contractors in the booming “gig economy,” like ride share drivers, web/app developers, aspiring entrepreneurs, and people who simply value their independence. Many working moms also prefer the flexibility of self-employment, which allows them to better meet the needs of their families. Being your own boss is difficult enough without having to worry about finding affordable health coverage.
So, what does all this have to do with bureaucrats at the DOL? EASE wants to give those 25 million hard-working Americans access to the same group plans that work for 160 million others. DOL doesn’t, even though finding affordable alternatives to Obamacare is supposedly a top priority of the Trump administration. One of the President’s central campaign promises in 2016 was to allow for the sale of health insurance across state lines. As of now, EASE is the only option for successfully doing that. The repeal and replace of Obamacare fell one vote short in Congress in 2017. Later that year, the President issued an Executive Order, directing three federal agencies to fulfill his pledges on health care. They failed on every level – partly because people inside those agencies wanted them to.
EASE allows anyone who wants to join an ERISA health plan to do so, as long as they’re willing to meet certain requirements and pay the cost of their own coverage. Because ERISA is much more flexible and efficient than Obamacare, those costs range from about 20% on the low end (for basic preventative and wellness care), to about 75% on the high end (for comprehensive “major medical” plans) of Obamacare premiums. EASE plans don’t discriminate against anyone, including those with pre-existing conditions, and is ERISA compliant. So, who could possibly object? All signs point to the bureaucrats who oversee ERISA.
In 2018, Alex Renfro, a benefits attorney and designer of the EASE model, voluntarily shared his idea with DOL. At first, they called it “ingenious,” and encouraged him to submit a formal request for an Advisory Opinion. Shortly after that, for no apparent reason, they changed their minds. For a year, DOL ignored not only Renfro’s request but also a strong letter of support from seven state Attorneys General. As a last resort, one of Renfro’s clients, an EASE plan sponsor, sued DOL. With their backs to the wall, DOL then issued a flawed Advisory Opinion, threatening potentially millions of self-employed people who, along with their families, could benefit from EASE health coverage, as well as the 50,000 Americans currently covered by EASE plans.
Judge Reed O’Connor, of the US District Court in Texas, will soon decide whether DOL or the many experienced ERISA lawyers supporting EASE are correct on some highly technical points of law. It’s mind-boggling that a judge has to decide at all. There is absolutely no valid reason why anyone who wants to see President Trump’s health care agenda fulfilled – and his reelection campaign successful – would oppose EASE.
If DOL wins, more than 50,000 EASE plan participants will lose their coverage. Millions more will remain uninsured, vulnerable, and looking for someone to blame. We don’t yet know all of the names that will be on the ballot in November, but we know some that won’t – the “Deep State” bureaucrats.
ERISA Access for the Self-Employed (EASE) Alliance is a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to Obamacare for self-employed Americans, like real-estate agents, Uber drivers, and small business owners.