NU Online News Service, Jan. 9, 2004, 5:29 p.m. EST – President Bush mentioned association health plans today at a meeting with women who own small businesses at the U.S. Department of Commerce, according to a transcript released by the White House.[@@]

The president talked about the importance of reforming the medical liability system and of making the tax cuts included in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 permanent.

Business leaders and owners “will tell you that if there’s uncertainty in the tax code, it will make it difficult for them to plan for the future,” Bush told the women business owners, according to the transcript. “Business owners like certainty. They want to know what the rules are?. Permanency in the tax code will mean more job creation. Congress must make every part of the tax package permanent.”

Business leaders also say that health care costs are rising and are difficult to manage, Bush said.

“We need association health care plans to allow small businesses to pool the risk across jurisdictional boundaries,” Bush said. “Congress must act.”

Association health plan proposals would encourage small businesses to join multistate health coverage purchasing groups that might be exempt from most state health insurance mandates.

Today, multistate associations that try to obtain health coverage discounts for member employers must cope with differences in state insurance laws and regulations by negotiating contracts on a state-by-state basis.

Critics say AHPs would weaken state health insurance oversight, but AHP advocates, including business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business, Nashville, Tenn., say AHPs would give small businesses some of the bargaining clout that big businesses now enjoy.