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August 24, 2005 8:42 AM CDT

House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Provide Affordable Health Care Options to Small Businesses

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On July 26, by a vote of 263 to 165, the U.S. House of Representatives passed 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 creates association health plans (AHPs) which will allow small businesses to band together through associations like MCAA and purchase quality health care for workers and their families at a lower cost.

As many of our members are all too well aware, small business owners and their employees are clamoring for relief from the high costs of health insurance. Health insurance premiums have been steadily increasing for the last several years, and in more and more instances, employers are being forced to drop coverage altogether or pass along more of those costs to their workers. Approximately 45 million Americans lack health insurance and more than 60 percent of these uninsured work for a small business or are dependent upon someone who does.

Small businesses in many states are stuck with disproportionately high costs because they have fewer providers from which to choose. Association Health Plans would offer businesses more 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. It is estimated that through this increased bargaining power, AHPs would give small businesses freedom from costly state-mandated benefit packages and lower their overhead by as much as 30 percent - benefits that large corporations and unions already enjoy because of their larger economies of scale.

This legislation is a top priority for the Mason Contractors Association. We have been working very hard to get a bill to the President's desk. While the House of Representatives has passed a bill for the last several years, the Senate has yet to act. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has been working on a draft bill which we expect to be introduced after the August recess. The legislation may not be everything that we want in a bill aimed at reducing the health care costs of small businesses, but if we could push the Senate to pass a bill and get to conference with the House, the leadership we would have from proponents of AHPs would, in my judgment, do everything they could to report out a reasonable proposal.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions.


About the Author

Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.

 

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