The American Horse Council submitted comments opposing proposed regulations governing the provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The regulations were proposed by the Internal Revenue Service, the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration and the Health Care Financing Administration.

HIPAA was passed in 1996 to improve the availability, affordability and access to group health insurance coverage for the group and individual market. “We believe that Congress intended that the Act protect individuals, like horseback riders, from being discriminated against and denied health insurance coverage, including benefits coverage, simply because they are participating in recreational activity. We had expected these federal agencies to enforce the non-discrimination provisions of HIPAA as they apply to benefits coverage. These proposals say the opposite,” said Jay Hickey, President of the AHC.

These proposed regulations would permit employers and insurers to negotiate group health plans that exclude health insurance benefits coverage based on activities, including horseback riding that the AHC believes Congress sought to protect in HIPAA. As the AHC reads this Act, it was intended to prohibit employers, unions and health insurers from denying health insurance coverage based on a worker’s pre-existing medical condition or participation in various recreational activities. The legislative history of the Act states that the law “is intended to ensure, among other things, that individuals are not excluded from health-care coverage due to their participation in activities such as motorcycling, snowmobiling, all-terrain vehicle riding, horseback riding, skiing and other similar activities.”

While the proposed rules prohibit a person from being excluded from a health insurance plan simply because he or she engages in riding, they permit an employer or insurer to include a “so