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House Committee Passes AHP Bill

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed H.R. 660, the Small Business Health Fairness Act on June 11, 2003 by a vote of...
June 17, 2003

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed H.R. 660, the Small Business Health Fairness Act on June 11, 2003 by a vote of 26-21. The legislation allows for the establishment of Association Health Plans (AHPs) that allow small businesses to band together through associations and purchase health care for workers and their families. AHPs could be exempt from some state regulations. The legislation also provides protections to improve financial solvency, create uniform federal certification standards and deter fraud.

Democrats charged that the bill would weaken health care coverage for diseases such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, autism and mental illness. Many states have mandated that insurance companies cover screening and treatment for such specific conditions. Republicans said such mandates are unnecessary and that adhering to a patchwork of state laws makes it too difficult for the groups to operate efficiently, leaving some workers uninsured. A series of mandate amendments offered by Democrats was defeated by Republicans.

What It Means for Agents:  Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly back this bill. However consumer groups and other business organizations contend allowing AHPs to operate with less state regulation will bring about a two-tier system for health insurance that would bring about greater premium increases in plans more heavily regulated by states. With the support of the Bush Administration and 150 House cosponsors, House passage of H.R. 660 seems likely. The bill could face rougher going in the Senate.

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