A few weeks ago, Association Health Plan (AHP) bipartisan legislation was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (The News, Feb. 24). HVACR contractor associations are putting their support staunchly behind the Small Business Health Fairness Act (H.R. 660), asserting that such legislation is long overdue.

Among other things, the legislation would allow contractors and other businesses to band together across state lines for the purpose of buying healthcare insurance at a lower cost. While the legislation is not specific to any particular size company, it is expected to be most beneficial to small businesses (those with 25 or fewer employees).

Paul T. Stalknecht, president and CEO of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), stated, “ACCA’s 4,600 members are clamoring for federal legislation that will allow them to both lower their health insurance premiums and continue to provide their employees with access to quality health care.”

According to the association, a survey of its members conducted last year showed that, on average, small contracting firms are paying over 60 percent more for health insurance than they were just three years ago. Almost all of these contractors employ fewer than 25 people; “they are being forced to either reduce insurance coverage or stop offering it altogether, just to keep their business doors open,” said Stalknecht.

Association Coverage

“ACCA doesn’t have a health insurance program,” pointed out Kevin Holland, vice president, Communications & Membership Services, ACCA. “We’re prohibited by federal law from allowing members to pool their numbers across state lines, although multistate large employers and labor unions are allowed to do so under ERISA.

“The Health Fairness Act would give small businesses the same opportunity available to larger businesses to gain lower premiums through buying power.

“If our members want us to put something together for their benefit, we will,” Holland continued. “We haven’t focused on it yet. Our focus is on getting meaningful legislation passed that will expand market competition and lower health insurance premiums for contractors.”

The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Rosslyn, Va., also called on Congress to pass AHP legislation. The association used to offer association health benefits starting in 1957; through the years it offered traditional health insurance plans, HMOs, and PPOs to its members, “many of whom were small business owners who would otherwise not be able to afford health insurance coverage for their employees,” according to ABC.

The association said that in 2001, it was forced to discontinue the health insurance portion of its AHP when its insurance carrier terminated coverage because of “incompatible and inconsistent state laws, making it too expensive to provide coverage.”

The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association (PHCC) said that it likewise supports the AHP concept “as a means to make insurance more affordable for p-h-c contractors, many of whom have had to reduce or eliminate the amount of health insurance they provide to employees.”

AHPs will be a top issue at the March 20 PHCC Legislative Conference, the association added. “PHCC needs legions of members there to lobby.”

“The time to act is now,” emphasized ACCA’s Stalknecht.

Publication date: 03/10/2003