Frist Plans Vote on Association Health Plans
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) this month hopes to hold a floor vote on a revised version of a bill (S 1995) that would allow small businesses and trade associations to form association health plans across state lines, according to a Frist spokesperson, CongressDaily reports. In May, the legislation -- sponsored by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) -- failed on a cloture vote by five votes (Lee, CongressDaily, 9/18).
Under the bill, health insurers could offer AHPs to small businesses and individuals that do not meet current state benefits requirements but also would have to offer plans with benefits provided under a state employee plan in one of the five most populated states -- California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas. The legislation also would pre-empt state laws that limit the amount health insurers can vary premiums for small businesses (California Healthline, 5/12).
Most Democrats oppose the bill, which they maintain would reduce the quality of health insurance for small businesses. According to supporters, the legislation would provide small businesses with more leverage in negotiations with health insurers and would allow more businesses to offer coverage to employees (CongressDaily, 9/18).
Nelson -- one of two Democrats who voted for cloture in May -- has begun to draft revisions to the bill under which AHPs would have to include any benefits required by at least 26 states. According to CongressDaily, whether "the changes will be sufficient to win ... enough Democratic votes to pass the bill" remains uncertain.
An Enzi spokesperson said, "It's really hard to tell whether we have crossed the bar or not. I think probably we won't know for certain until we get closer to a potential vote."
The bill would become the "only major piece of health care legislation to pass the Senate this year," CongressDaily reports (Lee, CongressDaily, 9/15).