US House Passes Association Health Plans Bill

July 27, 2005 ( - In an effort to help small employers deal with the ever-present problem of health-care coverage costs, the US House on Tuesday approved a bill allowing companies to collectively buy health insurance for their workers.

Lawmakers okayed the measure, the Small Business Health Fairness Act (HR 525), by a 263-165 vote, according to news reports.

The legislation would allow small businesses, trade associations or business organizations to pool their purchasing power to get better health coverage prices and exempts these Association Health Plans (AHP) from many state regulations.

“The most coveted health insurance available in America is offered by big companies and unions. All we’re trying to do in the bill is to give small employers the same opportunities to provide high-quality health insurance to their employees at competitive rates,” said Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, in debate.

While supporters contended that the measure would restrain health costs and help cover some of the millions of uninsured working people, critics charged that this approach could provide bare-bones insurance to some workers and leave others facing even higher bills. The regulatory exemptions in the bill also prompted opposition from patient advocacy groups and insurers.

Democrats argued that the AHP plans would be able to choose relatively young and healthy workers and exclude older sicker ones, who would then face even higher insurance premiums outside the AHP framework.

The outlook for the measure from here was uncertain since previous versions of the legislation (See  DOL Pushes Health Insurance Alternative for Small Biz ) have languished in the Senate, in part because of opposition from influential Republicans, according to news reports.