NU Online News Service, Feb. 18, 2005, 5:01 p.m. EST

Insurance industry groups have joined with consumer groups to oppose a health coverage proposal that has strong support from President Bush.[@@]

Bush has pushed for the creation of a national association health plan program that would let association plans get around individual states’ health insurance coverage mandates. Bush talked about the proposal during most of his campaign stops and repeated his support for the proposal earlier this month during his State of the Union address.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, and many employer groups have supported the AHP proposal, arguing it would give small employers that join national associations the freedom from mandates that large, self-insured employers now enjoy.

Many insurers and consumer advocates have responded by arguing that the AHP program would encourage the youngest, healthiest employer groups to migrate to lightly regulated association plans and leave the oldest, sickest employer groups with state-regulated insurers.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Chicago, and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Va., have joined with more than 1,300 other groups to publish a report, “Association Health Plans — A Step Backward for Small Employers and Consumers,” that continues the fight against the AHP proposal. The new report summarizes the results of 15 economic, policy and legal studies that have found fault with the AHP concept.

One study cited, for example, which was conducted by researchers at Georgetown University, found that 4 AHP studies had predicted an AHP program would be unlikely to increase the percentage of U.S. residents with health insurance by more than 1.8% and might increase health coverage costs for at least 48% of U.S. small businesses.

In addition to insurance groups, the coalition that backed publication of the report includes organizations such as the American Diabetes Foundation, Washington, and the National Small Business Association, Washington.

These groups are among more than 1,300 organizations nationwide opposed to federal AHPs because they will increase costs and result in loss of critical state oversight of healthcare services for workers and their families.

The report is on the Web at http://bcbshealthissues.com/relatives/100240.pdf