March 29 (UPI) -- A federal judge has ruled that a Trump administration measure expanding association health insurance plans allowed participants to illegally escape certain Affordable Care Act regulations.
The rule allowed small businesses and some self-employed workers to band together to purchase healthcare coverage. District of Columbia-based U.S. District Court Judge John Bates said that the move let those involved "avoid the most stringent requirements of the ACA."
"The Final Rule was intended and designed to end-run the requirements of the ACA, but it does so only by ignoring the language and purpose of both [the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974] and the ACA," Bates wrote.
"The [Department of Labor] unreasonably expands the definition of 'employers' to include groups without any real commonality of interest and to bring working owners without employees within ERISA's scope despite Congress's clear intent that ERISA cover benefits arising out of employment relationships. Accordingly, these provisions are unlawful and must be set aside ..." Bates continued.
The Labor Department said in a CNN report it disagreed with the decision while the Justice Department said it will consider "all available options" after Bates' ruling.
"The administration will continue to fight for sole proprietors and small businesses so that they can have the freedom to band together to obtain more affordable, quality healthcare coverage," a Justice Department spokesman said.
"The Association Health Plan rule opened healthcare options for dozens of associations representing thousands of small businesses and sole proprietors and provided them with access to the same type of care options offered by other employers," the spokesman continued.
The rule was the Trump administration's latest effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. On Monday, the Justice Department said in a letter to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that the entire ACA should be invalidated.
The department asked the court to affirm an earlier ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor in Texas that a 2017 change in federal tax law eliminating the penalty on uninsured people invalidated the ACA.
In a brief last June, the Justice Department said there were grounds only to strike down the law's consumer protections, including those for patients with pre-existing conditions.