Health-care relief moved a step closer to reality with the introduction earlier this month of the Senate Association Health Plan (AHP) bill. The bill, introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Chair of the Senate's Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, would speed the formation of AHPs that allow small businesses to buy into group health insurance plans anywhere in the country, enabling them to pay much less than they now pay for small policies directly from insurers.

The original cosponsors of the bill include Sens. Snowe, Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Jim Talent (R-Mo.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). This effort follows on the heels of the bipartisan introduction of the first-ever stand-alone bill on AHPs, also known as the Small Business Fairness Act (H.R. 660) in February in the House.

“This bill simply says that small business ought to be able to afford health care as big businesses do,” said freshman Sen. Talent.

The major obstacle to AHPs to date has been varying state benefit mandates. However, this bill would change that by allowing small businesses to be exempt from state-specific mandates.

The Independent Electrical Contractors Association (IEC), Alexandria, Va., is lobbying for the bill. IEC members have been especially hard-hit by the skyrocketing costs of health insurance because most IEC member companies have less than 10 employees.

Nancy Kolb, office manager at IEC member Red Rock Electric Inc., Colorado Springs, Colo., said, “Our health insurance has gone up an average of 20 percent over the last three years. The company has paid for much of the increase in the past, but under current circumstances (the economy combined with the large expense of health insurance), we are no longer able to absorb this expense.”

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