Committee Approves Bipartisan AHP Bill to Give Uninsured Working Families Access to Affordable Health Care
Association health plans give hope to 45 million Americans without health benefits
By Kevin Smith
The House Education & the Workforce Committee on March 16th approved the Small Business Health Fairness Act (H.R. 525), a bill that will significantly expand access to health coverage for many of the 45 million Americans who are currently uninsured. The bill allows small businesses to band together through association health plans (AHPs) and provide quality health care to their workers at a lower cost. An identical measure was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004 by a vote of 252-162 with the support of 37 Democrats.
"Health insurance costs are still rising and many small employers are forced to drop health coverage. And some can not offer it in the first place," said Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX), author of the bill. "AHPs give small business the same bargaining power of big business in the health care arena. As I've said before, if it's good enough for Wall Street, it's good enough for Main Street."
The bill, strongly supported by President Bush, currently boasts more than 115 bipartisan House cosponsors, including Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), and Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD), among others. Velazquez, Wynn, and 12 other House Democrats sent a letter to Boehner and the Committee's ranking member George Miller (D-CA) strongly supporting the bill today. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate (S. 406) earlier this year by Senators Snow (R-ME), Bond (R-MO), Talent (R-MO), and Byrd (D-WV).
Approximately 45 million Americans lack health insurance today and studies indicate more than 60 percent of these uninsured Americans either work for a small business or are dependent upon someone who does.
"While our economy has created more than three million new jobs since August 2003, many small businesses still can't afford to provide health insurance to their workers because of rising premium costs," said Boehner. "The best patient protection for uninsured working families is access to affordable health care benefits, and this bipartisan bill responds to the needs of uninsured Americans."
"With the support of President Bush, the Labor Department, and bipartisan backing in Congress, we hope to move this bill quickly through the House and Senate so that uninsured families can begin to access quality health insurance," Boehner added.
The bipartisan Small Business Health Fairness Act (H.R. 525) would create association health plans (AHPs), which would allow small businesses to band together through associations and purchase quality health care at a lower cost. The AHP bill would increase small businesses' bargaining power with health care providers, give them freedom from costly state-mandated benefit packages, and lower their overhead costs by as much as 30 percent - benefits that large corporations and unions already enjoy because of their larger economies of scale.
Small businesses in most states are stuck with disproportionately high costs because they have to choose from fewer than five providers; AHPs offer them new options to choose from. By giving small businesses the opportunity to pool their resources and increase their bargaining power, AHPs will help employers reduce their health insurance costs. Most importantly, AHPs will expand access to quality health care for the people for whom it is currently out of reach: uninsured working families.
The bill has been endorsed by a broad and diverse coalition of more than 175 groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Associated Builders and Contractors, The Latino Coalition, National Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and the National Restaurant Association.
For more information about Association Health Plans and the broad coalition that supports AHPs, please visit the website http://www.ahpsnow.com/.
About the Author
Kevin Smith was formerly the Communications Director for the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee.