WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.R. 660, the “Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2003,” legislation authorizing the formation and multi-state operation of federally certified association health plans (AHPs). The AHP Bill, sponsored by Reps. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), Sam Johnson (R-Texas), Cal Dooley (D-Calif.), and 159 additional co-sponsors, prevailed on a vote of 262 to 162 in which 36 Democrats joined 226 Republicans in support.

“Today’s action by the House successfully concludes the first chapter in what can be a very good story for the nation’s smaller employers and their workers,” said Jade West, senior vice president-government relations of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW). “A tough battle lies ahead in the Senate, but the solid bipartisan vote achieved in the House should help build positive momentum there.”

“NAW member companies, like other smaller employers across the country, are truly struggling in today’s highly concentrated health insurance marketplace and their workers are highly affected by that struggle,” said Dirk Van Dongen, NAW’s president. “The AHP bill employs an effective marketplace approach to this problem, and one that involves little if any cost to the taxpayers. For these reasons, enactment of the AHP bill is among NAW’s top legislative priorities and, in fact, leads our health policy agenda.”

“Health care costs are a big and growing problem across the board, but particularly hard-hit are small and mid-size employers and their workers,” observed Jim Anderson, vice president-government relations at NAW. “After all is said and done, the AHP bill is about providing those employers the same opportunities for economies of scale, bargaining clout, and administrative efficiencies that the nation’s largest employers and labor unions now enjoy in the health insurance marketplace, and to allow greater competition to begin to level the playing field for those smaller employers.

“Ultimately, it is workers and their families who will benefit from this bill,” Anderson continued, “people who either don’t now have or are in danger of losing their health benefits because of rapidly rising costs.”

Publication date: 06/23/2003