WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.R. 4281, the "Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2004." The bill allows for the establishment of association health plans (AHPs), which are designed to give small businesses the opportunity to join together through existing trade associations to purchase health insurance at a lower cost for their workers.

"This proposal is one step that can be taken to open health care coverage to more Americans," said Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V). "It is not the be-all, end-all solution, but this legislation would help to move us toward a goal that we all share, namely, to have as few uninsured Americans as possible."

The news has been applauded by trade associations, including the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association (PHCC).

"PHCC is extremely excited about this positive news because we have been lobbying extensively on this issue, and even stepped up the pace in the final hours," said Lake Coulson, vice president of government relations for PHCC. "We will continue to advocate for AHPs as the legislation moves to the Senate."

The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) also is pressing for passage of the legislation in the Senate. Recently, the U.S. Senate Republican Task Force on Health Care Costs and the Uninsured included AHPs in its task force report as a potential solution to providing affordable health care insurance for America's small businesses.

"The Senate should quickly pass AHP legislation," stated Kirk Pickerel, president and CEO of ABC. "Small businesses deserve the same opportunity to gain the economies of scale in the purchase of health insurance for employees that labor unions and Fortune 500 firms already enjoy."

Publication date: 05/17/2004