March 15 was a historic day for organizations such as NRCA that
for years have lobbied Congress to pass association health plan
(AHP) legislation. On that day, the Senate Committee on Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.),
approved and sent to the Senate S 1955—the Health Insurance
Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act of 2006. Its
purpose is to facilitate creation of small-business health
insurance pools across state lines, which are known as Small
Business Health Plans or SBHPs. For all intents and purposes, SBHPs
essentially are AHPs.
During the past decade, the House of Representatives passed AHP
legislation no fewer than eight times, but this is the first time a
Senate committee even has considered the issue—let alone
approved it. Although the committee vote was 11-9 along party
lines, S 1955 has a Democrat co-sponsor who is not on the
committee—Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who at one time was a
state insurance commissioner. This is important because the
National Association of Insurance Commissioners has opposed all
previous AHP bills. However, they remain neutral on S 1955 because
it provides a more visible role for state insurance commissioners
in the oversight of SBHPs.
Because states traditionally have regulated the sale of health
insurance products, the National Governors Association remains
opposed to S 1955. Organized labor and other entities that advocate
government-run single-payer national health care are not supportive
either. And perhaps the most vocal opponents are the
patient-specific consumer groups that have been successful getting
states to mandate coverage of their specific causes. For example,
the American Diabetes Association is opposed because it believes
SBHPs would be able to avoid state mandates on insurance...
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