House Passes Legislation To Authorize Association Health Plans; Senate Approval Unlikely
The House on Tuesday voted 263-165 to approve a bill (HR 525) that would allow small businesses to form association health plans across state lines and would exempt the plans from a number of state laws that regulate health plans and require them to cover certain benefits, CQ Today reports (Schuler, CQ Today, 7/26). The legislation would allow trade groups, chambers of commerce and other business organizations to arrange for coverage on behalf of small businesses.
Under the bill, the Department of Labor, rather than state insurance commissioners, would regulate AHPs. DOL does not have the authority to shut down fraudulent health plans immediately.
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who sponsored the legislation, said, "Small businesses will save as much as 30% on their health insurance" through AHPs.
However, according to opponents, the bill could prompt many health insurers to drop coverage for a number of services not mandated by federal law, such as tests and treatment for breast cancer and diabetes treatments. "This bill does pre-empt consumer protections provided by the state," Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) said (Higgins, Washington Times, 7/27).
The House on Tuesday defeated a proposed amendment to the bill that would have allowed DOL to establish a health plan for small businesses similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (CongressDaily, 7/27).
According to CQ Today, the bill "is unlikely to advance in the Senate," where similar legislation has failed in previous years (CQ Today, 7/26).
However, Brian Crawford, a spokesperson for the Associated Builders and Contractors, said, "[W]e are more optimistic than in past Congresses, largely based upon more interest from the Senate" (Washington Times, 7/27).