Members of the U.S. House have voted 263-165 to pass H.R 525, a bill that would create a system of multistate, federally regulated health plans.[@@]
All 227 Republicans who cast votes supported the bill, and the bill also attracted the support of 36 of the 200 Democrats who voted.
Trade and business groups already offer single-state association health plans. The single-state, state-regulated AHPs help small businesses team up to buy health coverage.
H.R. 525, the Small Business Health Fairness Act, would put multistate and national AHPs under the jurisdiction of the Employee Benefits Security Administration, an arm of the Labor Department. Multistate AHPs could either buy insured health coverage or self insure. Issuers of the coverage would not have to comply with state health insurance benefits mandates.
Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, introduced H.R. 525.
Sen. Olympia Snowe has introduced a similar bill, S. 406, in the Senate.
President Bush has expressed support for the AHP concept in his State of the Union speech and almost all of his other speeches that have addressed the topic of health finance reform.
Organizations supporting the AHP bills include many small business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Nashville, Tenn.
AHP supporters say an AHP program would make health coverage more available and more affordable for small business owners.
Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., pointed out in a speech supporting H.R. 525 on the House floor that administrative expenses typically account for at least 20% of the cost of a small health plan.
Congressional Budget Office estimates suggest that an AHP program could save small businesses an average of 13% on their health coverage, Fitzpatrick said, according to a written version of his remarks printed in the Congressional Record.
Fitzpatrick also cited a study that predicted that up to 8.5 million uninsured workers and dependents could gain coverage through an AHP program.