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SPECIAL REPORT: Virginia Society of CPAs’ 2019 Virginia Economic Expectations survey


health-care benefi ts to retain employees in a tightening labor market. Employers have to determine how they’ll provide health insurance and what percentage of the cost they will be able to absorb. “What I have heard from most of our retailers is they continue to see increases in their [health-care] premium,” T omas says.


Barry DuVal, president and CEO of


the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, also says ballooning health-care costs con-


DuVal


tinue to be a problem for his 26,000 members. T e chamber believes associa- tion health plans off er one solution. T ese plans allow small businesses to group together based on industry or location to lower costs


in buying health insurance. President Trump expanded access


to these plans earlier this year, allowing sole proprietors to qualify. Each state,


however, sets specifi c regulations for as- sociation health plans. In Virginia these plans still are subject to certain provi- sions in the Aff ordable Care Act (ACA) that drive up premiums. T e chamber plans to again support legislation in next year’s Virginia General Assembly session to change the requirements for the plans so that they won’t be subject to those ACA provisions. However, critics say the plans curtail


important protections. Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed two chamber-supported bills passed during the past legislative session, saying they would not include key consumer benefi ts. “T rough this exemption, associa-


tion plans are not required to provide comprehensive coverage and may not cover essential benefi ts like mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, prescription drugs or maternity benefi ts,” Northam said in a statement earlier this year when he vetoed the bills. “Moreover, association plans will be able to discrimi- nate against people by charging them more because of characteristics like gen- der and occupation. People with minimal current health-care needs are more likely to purchase these skimpy plans, leaving people with more signifi cant health-care needs in the marketplace.” Virginia also fi led a lawsuit in July


against the expanded federal rule for association plans, saying the change would undermine the ACA. T e com- monwealth was joined in the lawsuit by 10 other states and the District of Columbia. Kenn Penn, president and CEO of


ChamberSolutions, a chamber subsid- iary, says the plans are meant to place associations on a level similar to large employers, which aren’t subject to certain ACA requirements but still cover thou- sands of Virginians at an aff ordable price. Uncertainty in dealing with health-


care costs or trade is bad for business and the economy, says ODU’s McNab. “We don’t know what’s emanating from D.C. on a regular basis, and businesses and markets love certainty,” he adds. “T ey love policy process that’s slow and transparent.” Businesses hope they will get more


answers in the year ahead. 40 NOVEMBER 2018


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