WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration moved Thursday to further loosen regulations on health insurance plans, taking a modest step toward the president's oft-stated goal of rolling back requirements imposed by the Affordable Care Act that many Republicans blame for high premiums.
The proposed rules posted Thursday by the Department of Labor would make it easier for self-employed Americans, small businesses and others to band together to get health insurance through what are called association health plans.
These plans, long favored by business trade groups, could not turn away sick consumers or charge more to people with pre-existing medical conditions, two popular protections enacted in the 2010 health care law, often called Obamacare.
But the plans would likely be able to skirt another key consumer protection in the current law that requires health plans sold directly to consumers to offer a basic set of health benefits, including prescription drugs, maternity care and mental health and substance abuse services.
Fewer required benefits should make health plans more affordable, argue Trump administration officials and Republican lawmakers who support deregulation.
"The goal of the rule-making is to expand access to affordable health coverage, especially among small employers and self-employed individuals, by removing undue restrictions," the Department of Labor noted in the proposed regulation.
That was welcomed by industry groups such as the National Retail Federation.
"Main Street retailers need more affordable health care options and a level playing field with larger companies that are better positioned to negotiate for lower insurance costs," said David French, federation senior vice president.
Most large employers are already exempt from the health law's benefit mandates.
But many patient groups and consumer advocates -- who are already alarmed by Trump administration efforts to undermine the 2010 health law -- fear that less comprehensive health plans will leave Americans without vital protections.