Small Business Health Care Bill Passes US Senate Committee

March 16, 2006 ( - The US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee moved forward a bill from US Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) intended to help small businesses provide affordable heath insurance to employees.

The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act of 2005 would allow small companies to join together through their trade associations to negotiate for lower prices that big businesses can get, according to the Billings Gazette. The plans could bypass state mandates requiring coverage of certain treatments so long as they offered both a basic plan and one that included benefits similar to those state employees get in one of the five most populous states: Florida, Texas, California, Illinois or New York.    Enzi introduced the bill to Congress in November (See  Enzi Introduces Health Care Bill to Help Small Businesses).

Democrats introduced numerous amendments to the bill during the committee hearing Wednesday, including proposals to allow states to opt out of the measure altogether; to mandate coverage of women’s health care such as mammograms and guaranteed hospital stays for mastectomies; and to require a study of the effects of the law two years after passage and then let the law expire, if the study showed poor results.   The Gazette reports that the committee approved the act by an 11-9 party-line vote.

Enzi says the measure would provide coverage for 1 million workers who currently are uninsured and would bring down costs for others. But Democrats, consumer groups and women’s advocates said the bill would hurt those who need insurance most and fail to cover many vital screenings and treatments since insurance companies would not be subject to state laws that mandate certain treatments that insurers must cover.

Enzi said that both a basic package and a more comprehensive plan would be offered and argued that the proposed plans would expand coverage to many uninsured.   “If they can’t afford anything, something is better than nothing,” he said.