EASE Plan Members Talk About Their Experiences
ERISA Access Serving Everyone (EASE) Alliance is a nonprofit that promotes affordable healthcare plans for all, including self-employed Americans, like real-estate agents, Uber drivers, and small business owners.
Alex Renfro is widely recognized as one of the leading national experts in the interpretation and implementation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (“ACA,” also known as Obamacare). He began analyzing ACA even before its passage, and was the first ERISA and welfare benefits attorney in the US to design and file a patent application for a health plan based around Minimum Essential Coverage.
Alex is an honors graduate of the University of Notre Dame, received his Juris Doctor, cum laude, from SMU Dedman School of Law, and an LLM in Taxation with a Certificate in Employee Benefits from the Georgetown University Law Center. Alex lives with his family in Nashville, TN.
EASE, which stands for ERISA Access Serving Everyone, supports benefit plans that offer everyone including self-employed Americans, like real-estate agents, Uber drivers, and small business owners, the opportunity to form a partnership and gain access to affordable, flexible group health coverage.
Self-employed individuals do not have the opportunity to purchase group health insurance plans through a traditional employer. More than twenty million self-employed people don’t have access to employer-sponsored plans or to Obamacare subsidies. Many of these individuals have been priced out of health insurance, as premiums and deductibles have risen, and do not qualify for subsidies.
Under the law that governs employee benefit plans, a partnership is considered a single employer. Therefore, members of a partnership qualify to purchase group health insurance plans under ERISA.
EASE Alliance supports plans that adhere to the following principles including: protection against discrimination, financial stability, compliance with federal law including ACA and ERISA, and access for self-employed individuals.
Many different types of people, including the self-employed, independent contractors (including realtors, truckers, ride share drivers, seasonal and temp workers, and other members of the so-called “gig economy”), as well as employees of small, medium, and even large companies that do not offer comprehensive health plans. Many of these people do not qualify for Obamacare subsidies, due to income, immigration status, or other factors.
EASE provides a structure under which people who do not have access to traditional employer-sponsored health coverage can nevertheless participate in large group market plans under ERISA. Certain companies which are structured as partnerships may serve as ERISA plan sponsors, and by becoming limited partners, individuals may participate in these plans.
EASE plans do not discriminate against anyone, on any basis. Sponsors of EASE plans are required to permit all individuals, irrespective of health status, pre-existing conditions, medical history, race, ethnicity, gender, age, or orientation to join both the partnership and health plan.
Each partnership is different and has its own requirements. The most popular EASE plan sponsor is the company that owns the Legend web browser. Limited Partners download Legend and use it in place of Chrome, Safari, etc., in return for a share of any profits made by the company and access to affordable, flexible group health plans.
These partnerships are part of the “Own Your Data” movement, which has sprung up worldwide as a response to growing distrust of giant technology companies. The giant tech companies such as Google and Facebook collect user data without paying anything to the people who create it, then sell it for billions of dollars.
In these data partnerships, limited partners agree to use a web browser that is owned by the partnership, instead of (for example) Safari or Chrome. No personal information about limited partners or their internet use is ever captured, stored, or sold. Any profits generated through the sale or use of fully anonymized data is shared among the partners, who collectively own the partnerships.
In order to get ACA passed, the Obama administration agreed to leave ERISA plans (and their 160 million members) pretty much alone. By contrast, the newly-created ACA exchange plans were required to provide ten categories – and many dozens of sub-categories – of so-called “Essential Health Benefits” or EHBs. Exchange plans also have other rules that, along with EHBs, make them very expensive for insurers to provide. (The giant carriers who dominate the exchanges actually like it this way, because their profit margins are set by regulators, and therefore the more they spend, the more they make.) ERISA plans, on the other hand, are not subject to most of these rules. That is why the employer-sponsored large group market is relatively stable, while premiums have more than tripled for individual market plans.
No. EASE plan participants pay all of the cost of their own coverage. By contrast, the federal government pays premiums for more than 90% of ACA plan participants through subsidies.
EASE plans provide a wide range of benefits, and are priced accordingly. One of the main advantages of ERISA plans is their flexibility – people can choose the type and amount of coverage they need, rather than being forced into “one size fits all” plans. Currently available EASE plans range from low-cost basic preventative coverage to full major medical.
Our policy and legal initiatives directly benefit the more than 50,000 individuals who already get coverage through EASE plans and the millions more who could join a partnership. ERISA is a federal law that applies to everyone, and we expect many partnerships and individuals to take advantage of the work we’ve done, in order to access better and more affordable health plans.