The logjam that has seen AHP legislation repeatedly stall in the Senate could be coming to an end.
On Wednesday, March 8, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has scheduled a mark-up of legislation that looks to provide more affordable health insurance options to America's small businesses. The bill, "The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act," (S. 1955) was introduced into the Senate by Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY), Chairman of HELP, in late 2005.
Jim Clarke, senior vice president for public policy for the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) told BTW that the scheduled mark-up was significant news. At present, the Senate has never voted on AHP legislation, while the House has repeatedly passed similar bills, most recently in July 2005. "There's movement and that's not been the case in the past several Congresses," Clarke said, and added, "it speaks to [Senator Enzi's] determination to get [AHP legislation] moving in the Senate."
If the HELP committee approves the bill, it will move to the Senate floor for debate. President Bush has stated publicly that he supports AHP legislation.
S. 1955, which was offered by Enzi as a compromise bill in an effort to bring AHP legislation to a vote in the Senate, will allow business and trade association to band their members together in order to offer group health coverage on a national or statewide basis in direct response to what the bill's sponsors describe as runaway costs "that are driving too many employers and families from comprehensive health insurance."
Since 2000, the bill's sponsors pointed out, group premiums for family coverage have grown nearly 60 percent, compared to an underlying inflation rate of 9.7 percent over the same period.
Enzi's legislation is considered a compromise because it retains state oversight and supervision of insurance coverage, as reported on the ASAE 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.
"We are nearing almost five years of double-digit growth in health insurance premiums -- increases that have repeatedly exceeded more than five times the rate of inflation," Enzi said in a statement. "This inflationary spiral is lowering the quality of life for countless families and hurting our economy. But those hardest hit are America's small businesses and families outside of employer-provided insurance. Never before has there been a more urgent need to encourage market reforms like those proposed in this bill."
At least 170 national associations representing 12 million employers and 80 million employees support legislation that would make it easier for the creation of national AHPs, including ABA, the Associated Builders and Contractors, ASAE, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and National Federation of Independent Business.