WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Alexander Acosta stated support for association health plans and an updated regulatory code to help non-traditional workers and small businesses during an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Commerce Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC) Thursday.
The message hewed closely to the policy goals of the Trump administration; President Donald Trump signed an executive order in October to expand the use of association health plans with the goal of allowing small businesses and entrepreneurs to band together. Acosta said this expansion is a key step in supporting members of what he called "the entrepreneurial economy."
Acosta took specific aim at essential health benefits (EHBs), a list of 10 healthcare categories that must be covered by small group and individual health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, noting that large employers are not required to provide these same categories (though many already do).
"The way healthcare is set up right now, large employers and small employers have different playing fields," he said, adding that entrepreneurs and small businesses have neither an "economy of scale" nor the ability to delegate price negotiation during the purchasing process.
"If all these small businesses, if all these entrepreneurs that are part of this entrepreneurial economy can band together and form associations ... and that association can treat small businesses' employees the same way that a large corporation offers a healthcare benefit to its employees, that's transformative," Acosta told event attendees.
Coming soon: New DOL data on non-traditional workers
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will also resurrect a survey it last updated in 2005 on individuals in alternative work arrangements, Acosta said. The results of that survey, which Acosta predicted could be available as soon as May, will likely show "a substantial increase" in the number of alternative work arrangements.
"That data has to be, in my opinion, the starting point for so many discussions that we need to have as a nation about how to recognize that the nature of work and the nature of the economy is changing, and how to respond to those changes not by ignoring but by embracing them," he said.
Acosta praises Chamber initiative tackling gig work
Acosta spoke during the afternoon portion of a C_TEC "kickoff event" held to showcase the launch of a new initiative: the New Economy Working Group. The partnership will bring together members of the tech sector in order to "explore issues and dynamics of tech marketplace models in the sharing, gig, and on-demand economies and evaluate their impact on the American workforce," according to C_TEC.
"I think 'gig' understates what so many Americans around the country are doing."
U.S. Secretary of Labor
"These are not just tech challenges for our country. These are in many ways an opportunity for America to define its competitiveness going forward in the 21st century," Vikrum Aiyer, Head of Public Policy at Postmates, said during a presentation at the event.
The group's formation comes at a crucial time for members of the non-traditional workforce, including gig and temporary workers as well as independent contractors. An estimate by Intuit and Emergent Research projects that at least 10 million U.S. citizens will be part of the gig workforce by 2021, and research from ManpowerGroup found that 94% of workers are open to non-traditional forms of work.
"I think 'gig' understates what so many Americans around the country are doing," Acosta said. He pointed to users of platforms like eBay and Etsy as examples. "Technology has really empowered the individual to reach a global market. And that's not a gig, that entrepreneurship."