Passage of the Association Health Plan legislation (S. 545/H.R. 660) is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, it's unlikely the U.S. Senate will take care of this important piece of legislation by the end of the current session. The U.S. House of Representatives passed AHP legislation last year and the President supports it. So why has the Senate failed to get the job done?
Granted, the legislation is not the panacea to America's health care crisis. Significant health care reform, health insurance reform and malpractice reform are needed, but that's a bit more than our politicians can handle at this time with homeland security, the threat of terrorism, the Iraq War, phasing in prescription drug benefits for seniors, a presidential election and a slathering of pork barrel projects currently occupying their waking moments (or at least those moments when a TV camera is ready to transmit their intellectual insight around the globe).
So until major health care reform is brought to center stage (if that's possible), AHP legislation is designed to help many of the more than 40 million Americans who currently have no health insurance. The plan would allow bona fide trade associations to offer health insurance plans to their members, giving small business owners the opportunity to join forces to purchase health insurance. In essence, small entrepreneurs would have the same power to negotiate insurance prices enjoyed by large corporations. Many small business owners, including asphalt contractors, with fewer than 50 employees would once again be able to offer their associates an affordable plan. Skyrocketing health insurance has forced many business owners to either pass on those rising costs to employees who can't afford the premiums, or simply drop health insurance from the benefits they offer. Business owners want to provide affordable health care insurance to their employees, but the rising costs have made it economic suicide for many who have been forced to operate on slimmer profit margins just to remain competitive.
The legislation makes sense in so many ways. It will help small business owners remain competitive while enabling them to provide an important benefit to their employees. It will provide affordable health care to many Americans who have been forced to go without. It will force health insurance companies to be more competitive as they vie for this new business. It will save taxpayer dollars currently spent on providing health care to uninsured. And most importantly, it will put health care reform back in the spotlight. Health care should never be considered an exclusive benefit for the privileged few, but rather a fundamental right for all.
Greg Udelhofen, Editor