Sen. Robert Byrd Becomes First Democratic Senator To Endorse Association Health Plans Bill
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) has become the first Democratic senator to endorse legislation (S 545) that would alter health insurance regulations to allow small businesses to form association health plans across state lines, the Chicago Tribune reports. Similar legislation passed for the seventh time in the House last month (Kaiser, Chicago Tribune, 5/31). Under the House bill (HR 4281), state insurance requirements would not be applicable to AHPs, which would allow small businesses to jointly 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. However, opponents have said the plans could harm patients because 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. AHP proposals have stalled in the Senate (California Healthline, 5/14). Supporters of AHPs acknowledge that it is a "long shot for the legislation to pass the Senate this year," but they say Byrd's endorsement is "something of a breakthrough" in their efforts, according to the Tribune. According to Tom Gavin, Byrd's press secretary, the senator views the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), as a way to control rising health care costs. However, Gavin added that the bill "is not the be-all and end-all on health care." Craig Orfield, spokesperson for the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said of Byrd's endorsement, "Momentum is better than ever for getting some action in the Senate," adding, "There's going to be debate about what will get done in terms of any kind of further health care policy this year, but I think these recent events have added some steam to the AHP train" (Chicago Tribune, 5/31).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.