WASHINGTON BUREAU — One section of H.R. 3962 could let the U.S. Small Business Administration become the dominant intermediary in the small group health insurance market, a producer group says.

The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, Alexandria, Va., is trying to draw attention to the “Assistance for Small Employers” provision in H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act bill.

The provision, which starts on the 191st page of the bill, toward the end of Section 305, calls for the SBA to design a health insurance “navigators” program for small businesses.

The program would steer businesses toward affordable health plans.

Health reform drafters had promised that they would keep a small group navigators program out of the bill, according to Mike Becker, PIA national director of federal affairs.

H.R. 3962 would let insurance agents and brokers participate in providing coverage to individuals and employers in qualified health plans through a proposed “insurance exchange” system, Becker says.

But the small employers assistance provision would require SBA officials to help small employers choose exchange plans and enroll employees in the plans, Becker says.

“The SBA would be required to perform the functions of an insurance agency or brokerage for small groups of under 100,” Becker says. “Professional, independent insurance agents and brokers already perform all of the services for consumers that the bill would require the SBA to provide.”

If the provision is implemented as written, “a government-funded agency or third-party contractor could employ unlicensed individuals with no expertise in health insurance to perform functions that currently require state licensing,” Becker says.

The SBA could hire outside entities to help it handle navigator duties, but the entities would have to be nonprofit organizations, according to the bill text.