North Carolina REALTORS® knew that finding adequate and affordable health insurance was a challenge for the state’s small businesses, associations, and independent contractors. But when polling revealed that as many as 6,000 of its members were not covered, the REALTORS® took swift and certain action. With help from the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program, they led an aggressive campaign that brought about the passage of an Association Health Plan bill in August 2019.
The REALTORS® had only been actively involved in the health care coverage issue for about two years, explains Seth Palmer, North Carolina REALTORS®’ Director of Regulatory Affairs and External Communications. Across the state, he says, they were hearing about the increasing difficulty of paying for health insurance, coupled with the worsening quality of that coverage. “Members were dropping coverage or forgoing other important expenses to cover insurance,” he notes. Forming a coalition with 19 other membership associations spanning multiple industries, the REALTOR® team began work on a comprehensive plan that would ultimately become Senate Bill 86, which allows for small business and associations to have access to the same type of coverage as large employers. It was a preliminary membership survey that lit a fire under the effort: “As a membership association, 6,000 REALTORS® without health coverage was a hard number to see, and that is what emboldened our advocacy work,” says Palmer.
The Association Health Plan campaign began at an intensive one-on-one level, as North Carolina REALTORS®’ State Political Coordinators engaged their contacts in the legislature on the importance of the issue. Print ads and op-ed pieces in the state’s two largest newspapers raised awareness among the general public, with the added support of an active social media campaign. In August, the Senate bill passed handily, and the House companion bill followed suit, both with strong bipartisan support. The REALTORS® reserved their call for action power for a strategic push after the bills’ passage: the hyper-sensitive, single point-of-contact call for action fueled by the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program directed messages from more than 7,045 unique individuals to Governor Cooper, urging him to sign the bill in to law. Neither formalizing the legislation with his signature, nor vetoing it, he allowed the Small Business Health Care Act to become law after a mandated ten-day period.
Asa Fleming, the president of North Carolina REALTORS®, thanked General Assembly members and the governor for allowing the bill to become law.
“Through this action, small businesses and independent contractors will now have an option for quality, affordable health insurance through Association Health Plans. This bipartisan legislation focuses on ensuring that hard-working citizens throughout our state are not allowed to fall into a gap which can’t be addressed in other programs,” he said, adding, “We look forward to working with our members to develop plans which address their needs and help provide coverage for the more than 6,000 who are uninsured and many more who are underinsured.”
Palmer notes that North Carolina REALTORS® is deeply appreciative of the help and support it received from the REALTOR® Party. “The response to our call for action just blew away the Government Affairs staff. It exceeded any of our projections, and clearly gave the governor an understanding of the seriousness of the challenges our members and other small businesses are facing when it comes to health care.” He also reports that, coming out of North Carolina REALTORS®’ recent Annual Conference, “Everyone is very excited about what we’ve accomplished, and eager to move forward and get the ball rolling!”
To learn more about how North Carolina REALTORS® is looking out for the well-being of its members and other small businesses across the state, contact Seth Palmer, Director of Regulatory Affairs and External Communications, at 919-573-0992.