Senate Vote on Small Business Health Plans Expected Next Week

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It is expected that next week the Senate will vote on The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act (S. 1955), legislation sponsored by Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY) that would allow business and trade associations to pool their members to offer group health coverage through Small Business Health Plans (SBHP). The American Booksellers Association is encouraging its members to contact their senators to urge a vote in favor of the bill.

Enzi's bill has the support of over 170 national associations, including the American Society of Association Executives, National Federation of Independent Businesses, National Restaurant Association, National Black Chamber of Commerce, and National Association of Realtors.

As the vote nears, however, a number of prominent organizations, such as the AFL-CIO, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the American Diabetes Association, have launched campaigns in opposition to the bill. While the list of required benefits has not yet been specified, ACS and others have argued that the legislation could lead to low-end insurance plans that do not cover benefits that are currently mandated in many states, such as cancer screenings, mammography, pap smears, and colonoscopies.

Noting 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, ABA COO Oren Teicher said, "While we certainly respect the position of those groups who oppose Enzi's bill, the fact is, small businesses have very little buying power and few affordable options when it comes to health coverage. Because it affects everyone, healthcare reform by its nature can be a controversial topic -- and no health care bill, including S. 1955, is without flaws. However, we believe Small Business Health Plans represent an important first step to providing our members with access to affordable healthcare."

Amanda Austin, manager of legislative affairs for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), told the Washington newspaper The Hill, "There are thousands of trade associations" that could participate in the new market, and since many small business owners belong to more than one organization, there would be competition among associations to provide health insurance. One way to gain a "competitive advantage," she said, would be to provide better healthcare options, The Hill reported.

Proponents of Enzi's legislation stress that the bill stipulates 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.

With the vote due the week of May 8, ABA is asking booksellers to contact their senators as soon as possible. To have the greatest impact, booksellers should mail a hardcopy letter on store letterhead to their senators' state offices and fax a copy of the letter to their senators' Washington, D.C., offices. (Addresses can be found on the Senate website.) ABA has also created a sample letter that booksellers can customize and send to their senators.

S. 1955 was offered by Enzi as a compromise bill in an effort to bring SBHP legislation to a vote in the Senate. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT).

A report prepared by Mercer Oliver Wyman, Inc., a financial services strategy consulting firm, for the National Small Business Association, found that 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.

While similar legislation has passed the U.S. House of Representatives numerous times, Small Business Health Plans legislation has never come up for a vote in the Senate.

ABA is asking any booksellers who contact their senators regarding SBHP to please notify ABA's David Grogan via e-mail to tally how many booksellers have written to support S. 1955. --David Grogan