House Passes Bill To Allow Association Health Plans
The House on Thursday voted 262-162 to approve a bill (HR 660) that would let small businesses join together across state lines to form association health plans, CongressDaily/AM reports (Wegner/Rich, CongressDaily/AM, 6/20). Thirty-six Democrats and 226 Republicans voted for the bill (Chicago Tribune, 6/20). Health plans offered through associations currently exist; however, they are allowed only on a state-by-state basis and must follow state regulations (Quaid, AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/20). The bill would exempt the AHPs formed by businesses from some state regulations such as coverage minimums and premiums. Instead, the AHPs would be regulated by the less-stringent rules of the Labor Department (California Healthline, 6/13). As a result, the plans could skirt state-mandated coverage requirements, including coverage for mammograms, mental health and OB/GYN services; appeals for denied claims; and limits on how much sicker or older people can be charged, critics say (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/20).
Some health plans, including the BlueCross BlueShield Association, say the plans would "create an imbalance" in the small business insurance market and cause coverage costs to rise for many businesses (Chicago Tribune, 6/20). However, supporters, including the National Federation of Independent Business, say the bill has restrictions that would prohibit pricing based on individuals' health "to the extent states already prohibit such pricing," AP/Newsday reports. Further, supporters say AHP coverage could not be denied to any eligible worker, and under AHPs, all businesses that belong to a trade association would be able to buy coverage. The vote marks the fourth time that the House has approved such a bill; the Senate has not taken up such legislation in the past (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/20). The House rejected on a 238-183 vote an amendment that would have set up a $50 billion Small Employers Health Benefits plan for employers with fewer than 100 employees (CongressDaily/AM, 6/20). Under the amendment, small businesses would have been able to obtain subsidies through the Labor Department for coverage modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.