The Senate sponsor of a major association health plan bill appeared before a group of health insurance brokers Tuesday to ask for help with pushing the bill through Congress.

Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., spoke Tuesday at a conference organized by the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., to rally support for S. 1955, the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act, which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee March 15 by an 11-9 vote.

“I am very hopeful to get this through the legislative process,” Enzi told NAHU members. “But it won’t be easy. We need your help to get it across the goal line.”

S. 1955, which is getting strong support from the Bush administration, would give small businesses the ability to buy health insurance through multistate associations.

Although the insurer providing the AHP coverage would have to be licensed in every state in which it sold association coverage, it could offer an association a uniform benefits package that would not reflect variations in state benefits mandates.

Enzi’s current bill has been facing strong opposition from insurers, state insurance regulators and many Democrats.

One of Enzi’s colleagues, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., predicted at a NAHU conference session held before Enzi spoke that it is “unlikely that that bill will become law.”

“I know NAHU has been very active in the past in opposing the traditional ‘AHP’ bills,” Enzi said during his speech. “Your concerns about an unlevel playing field and adverse selection are serious ones, and this bill has taken great care to address them. Most importantly, as you know, our bill does not include self-insurance for association plans.”

In addition, “our bill maintains a very strong role for state insurance regulators, who will remain the principal regulators of health insurance,” Enzi said.

Enzi defended the bill provision that would let insurers offer uniform multistate AHP benefits packages.

“Our bill does this for a very good reason: to avoid the administrative complexity and unnecessary costs involved in offering a national product with 50 different benefit structures,” Enzi said.

Outside actuaries have predicted that implementing S. 1955 could reduce health insurance premiums for small employers by 12%, Enzi reported.