House OKs Association Health Plans; Bill Allows Pooling Nationwide for Lower-Cost Insurance Coverage

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Byline: Marguerite Higgins, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The House yesterday approved a bill that would give major trade associations the power to pool their members nationwide and buy discounted health insurance that is not governed by state regulations.

The House voted 263-165 on the "association health plans," which are backed by the Bush administration.

Similar measures have been introduced in the Congress for the past decade. Several have passed the House, but none has made it through the Senate.

The current bill allows trade groups, chambers of commerce and other business organizations to bargain for health care coverage that crosses state lines. The health plans will be regulated by federal laws.

Most labor unions and large corporations purchase their health insurance under those rules, said Rep. Sam Johnson, Texas Republican and sponsor of the bill.

"Small businesses will save as much as 30 percent on their health insurance" by grouping under an association health plan, Mr. Johnson said on the House floor during yesterday's debate.

But other lawmakers and consumer groups argued that consumers under the health plans would lose state consumer protections and certain services because federal law does not mandate them.

State requirements for coverage of services like diabetes treatments and breast-cancer screenings could be eliminated under the health plans, said Carmen Balber, spokeswoman for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica, Calif. …