Legislation paving the way for groups of small businesses to purchase insurance coverage for their employees won the approval of a key Senate committee on March 15 in a narrow 11 to 9 vote.
Senate Bill 1955, also known as the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act, was introduced by Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. It also was sponsored by Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont.
At the committee hearing to vote on the bill, Sen. Enzi said the legislation would enable more small businesses to afford insurance coverage for their employees by banding together through associations. While he typically does not believe in imposing mandates on private industry, Sen. Enzi added that his support for the concept was reinforced after a recent conversation with Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.
“He said insurance companies have to keep an eye on the bottom line, and that the reason we have so many insurance mandates is that insurance companies otherwise would have complete control over what is and isn’t covered,” he said. “In other words, health insurance is a seller’s market, and the sellers control the product and dictate the terms. Having been in business before, I understand what Sen. Dodd was saying.”
After the vote, Sen. Enzi said “it’s time for the Senate to pass this bill. No more excuses.”
Opponents of the bill argued, however, that it steps on the toes of the states.
The legislation “effectively preempts the judgment and decisions of the people of my state,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the ranking minority member of the panel, adding the bill was an “extraordinary reach” of federal powers.
Massachusetts, he explained, already has one pool for small businesses to purchase coverage for their employees in the state.
Additionally, Sen. Kennedy criticized the bill for limiting what states additionally can do to help protect consumers, calling the bill, “a ceiling, not a floor.”