Senate Stalemate Broken: AHP Legislation Approved by HELP Committee

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Ending a 15-year stalemate on Association Health Plan (AHP) legislation, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted in favor of "The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act," (S. 1955), which was introduced by Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY). With the committee's approval, the bill can head to the Senate floor for debate.

"The bill would allow business and trade associations to band their members together and offer affordable group health insurance to working families," Enzi said in a statement. "[Wednesday's] vote is the first major step in 15 years toward more affordable health insurance options for small business and working families. The people who make up the bedrock of our economy -- small, family-owned businesses -- have demanded change. It's time for the Senate to pass this bill. No more excuses."

S. 1955 was offered by Enzi as a compromise bill in an effort to bring AHP legislation to a vote in the Senate. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT). According to the bill's sponsors, S. 1955 would allow business and trade associations to band their members together and offer group health coverage on a national or regional basis in direct response to "runaway costs that are driving far too many employers and families from comprehensive health insurance."

Enzi's legislation is considered a compromise because it retains state oversight and supervision of insurance coverage, as reported on the American Society Association Executives website.

The bill's sponsors have designed the legislation to enhance the market leverage of small groups as well as individual policyholders, and they believe S. 1955 will provide associations with a meaningful role on a level playing field with other group health plans and make lower-cost health plan options available.

A report prepared by the Milwaukee firm of Mercer Oliver Wyman, Inc., for the National Small Business Association found that S. 1955 would reduce health insurance costs for small business by 12 percent and would reduce the number of uninsured in working families by eight percent.

The American Booksellers Association and other members of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) strongly support AHP legislation.

"We're closely following the legislation's progress," said ABA COO Oren Teicher, "and when it's appropriate we'll be calling on our membership to reach out to their congressional representatives in both the House and the Senate to urge that they vote for it.

"For the first time in a few years, there are some signs that we are making progress and while it's impossible to predict the outcome, we are much more optimistic today than we've been in the past that the legislation might actually pass." --David Grogan