Frist Seeks Small Business Health Plan Vote This Month

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This week,'s Capitol Hill Watch reported that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) is hoping to hold a vote this month on a revised "Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act," S. 1955 -- a bill that would allow business and trade associations to pool their members to offer group health coverage through Small Business Health Plans (SBHPs, also known as Association Health Plans). The legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY), is co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT).

According to CongressDaily, Nelson is in the process of revising the bill so that SBHPs would have to include benefits required by at least 26 states. Previously, Enzi's bill had stipulated that insurers must offer an enhanced option health plan that provides the benefits, services, and categories of providers covered by a state employee health plan in one of the five most populous states: California, Texas, New York, Florida, or Illinois.

Back in the spring, the debate over Small Business Health Plans (SBHP) legislation heated up when a number of prominent organizations, such as the AFL-CIO, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the American Diabetes Association, launched campaigns in opposition to Enzi's bill. The groups argued that S. 1955 could lead to low-end insurance plans that would not cover benefits currently mandated in many states, such as cancer screenings, mammograms, pap smears, and colonoscopies.

However, supporters pointed out that there are many thousands of small business owners and employees who currently cannot afford any health insurance, and who have no access to any of those state-mandated benefits. And a report prepared by Mercer Oliver Wyman, Inc., a financial services strategy consulting firm, for the National Small Business Association, found that [the original] S. 1955 would reduce health insurance costs for small businesses by 12 percent and would reduce the number of uninsured in working families by eight percent.

In May, Sen. Enzi pushed for a cloture motion to halt debate and force a final vote on S. 1955, but the attempt was blocked when the Senate voted 55 - 43 against cloture, with almost all Democrats siding with the AFL-CIO and ACS, and voting against the bill. (To read a previous article on this bill, click here.)

It's not clear whether Nelson's revisions will be able to win over enough Democratic votes to pass the bill, CongressDaily noted.

A spokesperson for Sen. Enzi's office told BTW that, at present, no specific date has been set to bring S. 1955 back to the floor.