Senators Introduce Small Biz Health Care Bill

March 5, 2004 ( - Federal legislation has been introduced to provide the self-employed and small businesses with up to 100 employees with choices among private insurance plans by giving them access to a larger purchasing pool and negotiated rates for health insurance.

The Small Employers Health Benefits Program Act of 2004, co-sponsored by US Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) and Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), models the small business insurance program on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and would be managed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).   The OPM would be responsible for setting up a separate risk pool for nonfederal employees, manage the competitive bidding process, and be authorized to administer the program through regional administrative bodies, according to Washington-based legal publisher BNA.

>At first glance, the proposed measure may resemble the Association Health Plans (AHP) proposals, yet Lincoln and Durbin says there are key differences between their proposal and previous attempts to reform small business health care models.   Primarily, the most recent proposal offers:

  • agreater variety of choices rather than just one or two benefit plans
  • nationwideavailability
  • alicensing requirement for all plans offering benefit packages under the bill
  • regulationby OPM, not the Department of Labor (DoL) which does not have the necessary mechanisms, experience, or financial resources to oversee health plans
  • amodel based on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

By offering such a model, Durbin says small business will have an opportunity to band together and have more affordable health care options to offer employees.   Further, to help businesses afford the cost of health insurance, a tax credit would be available to employers willing to pay at least 60% of the premiums for their employees, Lincoln said.