AHP Bill Continues To Draw House Backers

March 21, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Five weeks after a bipartisan coalition in the US House of Representatives introduced a bill to create association health plans (AHPs), sponsors say it continues to draw supporters with a new total of 100 cosponsors.

Representative Sam Johnson (R-Texas), chairman of the House Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee, announced that about 30 additional members had signed onto The Small Business Health Fairness Act (HR 660). Johnson and four other members of Congress introduced the legislation February 11 with more than 70 cosponsors.

Johnson claimed in his statement that the legislation would expand health coverage access for many of the 41 million uninsured Americans. The bill would create association health plans (AHPs), which allow small businesses to band together through associations and purchase quality health care at a lower cost. According to the bill’s backers, AHPs would increase small businesses’ bargaining power with health-care providers, give them freedom from state-mandated benefit packages, and lower their overhead costs by as much as 30%.

“The breadth and depth of the support for the measure demonstrates Congress’ commitment to increasing the (number of) insured,” Johnson in the statement.  “Republicans and Democrats alike agree that small businesses should have the same type of access to quality health insurance that their counterparts in large corporations and unions already enjoy.  This legislation will help level the playing field and accomplish that goal.”

Bill Gets DoL Backing

Last week, Johnson’s subcommittee heard testimony from Ann Combs, the assistant secretary for employee benefits security at the US Department of Labor (DoL), supporting the measure – calling AHPs a “substantial solution to this (uninsured worker) problem” (See   DoL Pushes Health Insurance Alternative for Small Business ).

“Although most working Americans receive health insurance from their employers, small firms with fewer than 100 employees find it particularly difficult to offer benefits,” she testified, according to the Johnson statement. “Just 49% of these small businesses offer insurance, compared with 98% of larger firms with 100 or more employees.”

A coalition of more than 100 groups has also endorsed the bill, the Johnson statement said.