NU Online News Service, Jan. 21, 2004, 2:56 a.m. EST – President Bush promoted association health plans and private Social Security accounts Tuesday during his State of the Union address.[@@]

Congress should pass AHP legislation “to enable small businesses to provide health coverage to more workers by allowing them to band together and negotiate lower insurance rates,” Bush said.

AHP proposals would exempt multistate health insurance purchasing groups, such as trade associations, from most state regulation. Critics say allowing association health plans would weaken state oversight of health insurance, but advocates say the association plans would give members the bargaining clout that employers with more than 50 workers now enjoy.

Bush also called on Congress to establish refundable tax credits of up to $1,000 for individuals and $3,000 for families to help low-income workers buy health insurance coverage, and he talked with pride about newly enacted legislation that will create special health saving accounts for taxpayers who buy high-deductible health coverage.

Bush pushed to make the high-deductible coverage that taxpayers must buy to set up HSAs more affordable.

“Tonight I propose that individuals who buy catastrophic health care coverage, as part of our new health savings accounts, be allowed to deduct 100% of the premiums from their taxes,” Bush said.

In another section of the address, Bush repeated his support for the concept of creating a mechanism that would give workers control over part of their Social Security contributions.

To help people save for retirement, “we should make the Social Security system a source of ownership for the American people,” Bush said. “Younger workers should have the opportunity to build a nest egg by saving part of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account.”