President Bush still is hoping that Congress will let small businesses buy health coverage through multistate groups.

The president brought up the topic of association health plans today while he participated in a press conference in Chicago.

Senate Democrats recently used the threat of delaying tactics to block passage of S. 1955, a bill that would have permitted small business groups to buy multistate health plans from state-regulated insurance companies. Under the provisions of S. 1955, a small business association plan would have to comply with the laws in effect in the state of domicile.

“We got to recognize that certain individuals don’t have the capacity to be able to buy health insurance like big companies can do and, therefore, it erodes the capacity of small businesses to be able to maintain their purchasing power,” the president said, according to a transcript provided by the White House. “In other words, if it costs you a lot of money to buy the insurance plan, you’re not going to pay for your insurance, see. And right now our small businesses are being penalized because they’re not allowed to pool risk across jurisdictional boundaries. A solution to that is association health plans. [House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.,] got it passed out of the House. It got killed by the trial lawyers in the United States Senate.”

Bush said he still hopes to get an AHP bill passed before he’s out of office.

“It’s a practical way of making sure that small businesses aren’t mandated, but have got choice in the marketplace,” Bush said.

During the press conference, Bush discussed several other points of his health policy program.

The federal government has a responsibility to help provide health care for the poor and for the elderly, Bush said.

The administration hopes to improve health care for the poor by expanding community health centers, and it believes that the new Medicare Part D prescription drug program is helping Medicare do a better job of meeting seniors’ needs, Bush said.

“My attitude is, if you made a commitment to the seniors, make it a good commitment, make it work,” Bush said. “And we didn’t have prescription drug benefits as a part of Medicare. And yet, we’re willing to pay for the surgery for an ulcer, for example, but not the drugs to prevent the ulcer from happening in the first place.”

Bush also emphasized his support for the health savings account program and efforts to increase consumers’ access to information about prices.

“I know when I go to restaurants, I got a menu, see, and they say, here’s what it costs you,” Bush said. “That’s not the case in most health care decisions… I haven’t seen a lot of price postings. So we’re … using federal leverage through Medicare and the Veterans Administration, for example, to say, if you’re doing business with the federal government, post your prices and the quality of service you’re getting, so consumers can start making rational decisions in the marketplace.”

Other steps that could help the U.S. health care system might include supporting the use of standard electronic medical records and changing the medical liability system, Bush said.

“That’s a long answer,” Bush told the reporter who asked about health care policy. “It’s a long answer because I wanted to show you we’ve got a comprehensive plan that runs the opposite of a federal government being the decider at all costs. I don’t believe we ought to federalize medicine, I believe we ought to localize medicine. And the most local medicine is between the doctor and the patient.”