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America Outdoors E-News

April 17, 2008

New Legislation Seeks to Expand Group Health Insurance to More Small Businesses New Forest Service Flat Fee Policy Expected This Week
20th Anniversary Celebration, December 3 - 5 AO's International Marketing and Management Conference to Include Founder's Reunion Celebration Six Students and Teacher Die Canyoning in New Zealand on School Outing
Nahanni National Park Reserve in Canada Issues New Rules for School Outings. Require the Use of Licensed Outfitters  
New Legislation Seeks to Expand Group Health Insurance to More Small Businesses

One of the challenges facing small businesses today is the affordability of health insurance. Most small businesses cannot afford group coverage because the size of their group is not cost effective. Therefore, they are required to buy individual policies which become extremely expensive as the individuals age or develop any chronic medical condition or risk factors. New legislation proposes to provide more options to small business by allowing them to pool together under an association or other group buying entity. Unfortunately, the primary opponent to expanded coverage options for small businesses has been state insurance regulators who do not want nationwide groups that eliminate their state by state regulation of health insurance. To accommodate their powerful lobby, the bill provides each state with the opportunity to opt out of nationwide pools.

Background: On April 2nd, 2008, Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Norm Coleman (R-MN) introduced the "Small Business Health Options Program" (SHOP) bill. The bill was the result of negotiations with groups on opposite sides of the small business health care debate as a compromise bill. Its aim is to (1) decrease the number of uninsured by creating small business health care pools, (2) create incentives for small businesses to offer health insurance for employees, and (3) provide the self-employed with insurance options.

Who establishes groups: The bill designates entities called "navigators" which would coordinate with the government Administrator to advertise the national and state insurance pools as well as assist businesses in enrolling in the insurance pool. To be eligible as a navigator, an entity must prove that it has or can establish a "relationship" with eligible business. Listed as potential navigators are trade, industry, and professional associations. AO will continue to follow this bill.

Pooling Options:
  • Small businesses can pool together in statewide or national health insurance pools to allow them to decrease their health insurance costs.
  • States can opt-out of participating in nationwide pools and allows individual state insurance commissioners to continue regulating state plans.
  • SHOP would not dictate insurance prices and would accept all qualified plans that meet state licensure laws
  • Beginning in 2011, insurance ratings based on health status would be prohibited in SHOP and state markets, which would prevent sudden price increases due to a sick employee.
Incentives for Small Business:
  • Small businesses with ten or fewer employees that cover 60% of employees' health care premiums would receive a $1,000 per employee tax credit. The credit would increase for any coverage over 60%, and the credit is phased down as the size of the business increases.
  • Family coverage would allow a business to receive a $2,000 tax credit.
  • SHOP would create a website of plans that would allow participating businesses to chose an appropriate pool.

Incentives for the Self-Employed:

  • Similar to small businesses, the self employed would be permitted to participate in SHOP pools and receive a tax credit of $1,800 for purchasing their own insurance. Family coverage would receive a $3,600 tax credit.
This story is based on information article from the American Society of Association Executives and America Outdoors.

Check out AO's Health Insurance Program at Affinity Health.
New Forest Service Flat Fee Policy Expected This Week

The new flat fee policy for the Alaska Region may be a preview into the future fee policy that the Forest Service adopts for the lower 48. The Alaska Region policy is due out this week as a new directive published in the Federal Register. The flat fee policy was originally released last year but revised and will be out for comment again once published in the Federal Register. The proposal sets a flat fee for each user day and the fee varies from activity to activity. Fees are expected to be around $5 per day for most recreational activities and up to $10 per day for some specialized recreation. Fees for hunting will be levied by the hunt, not by the day, and are expected to be around $200 for elk and $100 for deer and higher for bear. The new fee policy was required by a Court ruling that required the agency to charge permittees the same fee for the same or similar activities. In the case Tongass Conservancy v Glickman, a tour operator challenged the agency's fee policy after an audit levied significant fees on his tours based on the entire price of the trip instead of the small amount of time spent in the National Forests. The Forest Service has the option to implement flat fees in National Forests but for most permittees the agency uses a 3% of gross basis with discounts for off-Forest activities.

20th Anniversary Celebration December 3 - 5
AO's International Marketing and Management Conference to Include Founder's Reunion Celebration
  It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed since the first Confluence in New Orleans in 1989. This year we'll celebrate by adding value to your business and your customer's experience with the most powerful programming ever. A Founder's Reunion Celebration will invite some of the original owners and pioneers of the industry to attend the grand celebration event in Knoxville on Thursday, December 4th. The event will include a multi-media presentation documenting and giving tribute to the early days of our industry. See old friends and make new ones in the industry at this once in a life time event. Registration information will be available in June.
Six Students and Teacher Die Canyoning in
New Zealand on School Outing
  Six students and one teacher died Tuesday when they were caught in a swollen river at the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre based in Tongariro National Park in New Zealand. The students, aged 16 to 17, were canyoning, an adventure activity in which participants in lifejackets, wet suits and harnesses, float and scramble down waterways through narrow canyons. The participants were caught in a surprise flood in a narrow canyon with little chance of escape. The party got into difficulty in the Mangatepopo Gorge. The victims were students at Elim Christian College in east Auckland. Thousands of students have taken part in the adventure over the years with no previous fatalities.
Nahanni National Park Reserve in Canada Issues New Rules for School Outings.
Require the Use of Licensed Outfitters
  In response to growing concerns about the safety practices on some school outings, Nahanni National Park in Canada has issued a new Custodial Management Directive that is intended to address the standard of care for Custodial Groups visiting the park.

Effective May 01, 2008 Custodial Groups must obtain a Custodial Permit. The Park has decided that school outings must be offered through existing outfitters who are familiar with the rugged environment of the Nahanni River. Custodial Permits will only be issued to outfitting companies licensed by Nahanni National Park Reserve. To obtain a Custodial Permit, outfitters will need to submit a Custodial Permit Application to Nahanni National Park Reserve. There is no fee for the permit, and Custodial groups will not take away from the outfitters regular commercial allotments. These groups will fall under the new (still being developed) Special Group Category that NNPR will manage under available private departure dates.

This directive is dramatically different from the proposed Forest Service directive on institutional use which proposed to offer school and institutional groups permits with "lowered operating requirements" with little or no regard for their qualifications.

To view the Nahanni National Park Custodial Permit Directive go to Final Rules and Regulations Section under Government Affairs tab at AmericaOutdoors.org.
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