House Passes Bill To Allow Small Businesses To Form Association Health Plans Across State Lines
The House on Thursday voted 252-162 to approve a bill (HR 4281) that would alter health insurance regulations to allow small businesses to form association health plans across state lines, CQ Today reports. The legislation is "[v]irtually identical" to a bill (HR 660) the House approved last June, but House Republicans used the "repetitive vote" to "keep the issue at the top of the health care debate and pressure the Senate to move forward with the bill," according to CQ Today. Under the AHP bill, state insurance requirements would not be applicable to AHPs, which would allow small businesses to join together across state lines to negotiate lower premiums with insurers. Supporters say that the plans' potential to make health care coverage more affordable could expand workers' access to health care (Schuler, CQ Today, 5/13). "The best patient protection for uninsured working families is access to affordable health care benefits, and this bill responds to the needs of uninsured Americans," Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), one of the bill's sponsors, said (CongressDaily, 5/14). However, several Democrats who oppose the bill have said the plans could harm patients. AHPs would be able to bypass state laws mandating coverage for services such as screening and treatment of breast cancer, autism and mental illness; opponents say insurance companies would likely drop coverage for those services. In the Senate, AHP proposals have been stalled because Republicans "remain divided on the merits of the plans," according to CQ Today (CQ Today, 5/13).
The House on Wednesday passed two other health care bills it had previously approved but the Senate had blocked. The two bills (HR 4279 and HR 4280) would address unused funds in flexible savings accounts and would cap awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. House Republicans said they plan to combine all three bills in a package before sending them to the Senate. If the Senate passes any of the measures, the House would be able to negotiate the full package of bills with the Senate in conference committee (California Healthline, 5/13). Prospects for Senate passage of the package "appear dim," according to CongressDaily (CongressDaily, 5/14).
An editorial and an opinion piece recently addressed "Cover the Uninsured Week," a campaign led by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that will run from May 10 to May 16 to raise awareness about uninsured people in the United States (California Healthline, 5/10). Summaries of the editorial and opinion piece appear below.
Ventura County Star: "Cover the Uninsured Week" is a "good start, but bringing adequate health care coverage to all Americans will not come easily or quickly," a Star editorial states. But because "[h]ealth coverage is a vital necessity to ensure a nation of healthy people ... doing so will be worth the time and effort," the Star writes (Ventura County Star, 5/13).
- David Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle: The competing plans released this week by Democratic and Republican lawmakers to improve health coverage "would likely help many people obtain at least rudimentary health insurance" but would do little to "achiev[e] the goal of universal coverage," Lazarus, a Chronicle columnist, writes. The plans would not "put a halt" to rising insurance premiums or "address the estimated $400 billion spent annually on administrative costs" under the current system, but they would "provide millions of new customers" for the "politically powerful, $300 billion" insurance industry, Lazarus adds. He concludes, "if we're serious about solving" the problem of the uninsured, "we have to be serious about genuine solutions," but "[t]hat's not what we saw this week" (Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/14).