Association Health Plans
Expanding access to quality, affordable health care seems to be on everyone's mind these days. It's been announced as a top priority of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. It's something that the Bush White House and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao have been very involved in over the last few months. And the MCAA Washington Office has joined a coalition of other trade associations working hard to enact sensible health care legislation into law. With health insurance premiums for small business workers and the self-employed increasing at alarming rates, it is time for Congress and the Administration to pay closer attention to this issue.
I hope you will begin to pay a little closer attention to the legislation Congress will soon introduce to expand health care coverage for small business employees and their families ("A Prescription for Coverage: Association Health Plans," Masonry, October 2002). The enactment of Association Health Plans (AHP) would be a tremendous benefit to members of MCAA.
Under current law, national trade associations are not allowed to offer health benefit plans to their members and member employees because to do so would pre-empt state insurance laws. The AHP legislation would amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to allow this pre-emption, thus permitting MCAA and other parent trade associations to put together Fortune 500 style health benefit packages for their members at a much lower cost. By joining together in associations, which are independent of insurance companies, small businesses could obtain the benefits of economies of scale, greater bargaining power, uniform regulations, and flexibility in health benefit design.
I've spoken personally with some of you over the last month or so about health insurance and heard some real horror stories about your ability ? or lack thereof ? as small business owners to provide coverage for your employees. While many of you can and do offer health benefits, I'm told your premiums are high and growing and, for some, your deductibles are through the roof. On the other hand, a few of you can't afford to offer it at all, either because you have too few employees that could be covered in a cost-effective manner or self insurance is too risky. Association Health Plans could solve those problems. More importantly, it's only fair that small business workers have access to the same types of health plans now offered to workers employed in large corporations.
I'm told that AHP legislation will likely be introduced the first week of February by Senator Snowe of Maine, the new Chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, and cosponsored by Senators Bond and Talent of Missouri, among others. The Senate Small Business Committee is also tentatively scheduled to hold a hearing on health insurance issues on February 4. If any of you have a story you'd like to bring to the Committee's attention regarding problems you've had either obtaining or retaining health insurance for your company, please feel free to share it with me. I'll be happy to write a statement for the record on your behalf. The more MCAA and its members can emphasize the need for AHP legislation, the better our chances of getting a bill enacted into law this year.
In my view, we're closer than we've ever been to passing this legislation, but a little help from all of you to push it over the edge would be most appreciated. If you're interested in discussing your health insurance woes, just send me an e-mail ? firstname.lastname@example.org ? or call me at (703) 671-4468. I'd like to hear from you.
About the Author
Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.