Associated with Insurance: Businesses Lobby for Coverage

Article excerpt

John B. Nicholson wants easier access to health insurance.

Mr. Nicholson, who owns Company Flowers in Arlington, says he had difficulty getting coverage for himself and the employees of his small flower shop.

He's hoping that a bill will pass Congress this session that will make it easier for him - and thousands of other small businesses - to get health insurance through their trade associations.

Associations, led by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), are pushing for legislation that would exempt them from state-to-state insurance regulations. This would make it easier for them to offer health plans to their members around the country.

In addition to the patients' rights bill passed last week, the House has passed a bill containing several measures for increasing coverage accessibility, including the association health plan provision. Parts of that bill are expected to be reconciled with the final patients' rights legislation likely to decided in conference with the Senate.

Trade groups say the association health plan provision would allow them to extend coverage to about 4.5 million small-business workers and their dependents.

That would certainly benefit Mr. Nicholson. He was part of a group of businesses that banded together to get insurance, but found it still too expensive. He testified before a House Small Business subcommittee recently on his struggle.

"I had had some problems with getting my medical insurance renewed . . . because I had no way of persuading the medical insurance company that we deserved at least a second look," Mr. Nicholson said.

That's because of his company's size - he has only five employees, not enough to spread out the medical risk, as with a large corporation.

But Mr. Nicholson "raised Cain" and eventually got insured, he said.

"Had I been obtaining medical insurance through an association-based plan, I could have gone through the association power structure to provoke a second look," he said.

Large corporations, as well as unions, are subject to national regulations when they get medical insurance - and are not subject to state-by-state rules. Associations say meeting a myriad of differing state regulations makes it impossible for them to offer flexible, more affordable coverage.

So they want the same rights as big corporations.

"Associations really could be a significant help in allowing more people to have access to health insurance," said Jim Clarke, the ASAE's vice president of public policy.

Jesse C. Coleman, who also spoke before the House Small Business subcommittee, said associations are one of the best ways to extend coverage to small companies that slip through the cracks.

Mr. Coleman is vice president of Coleman's Hamilton Supply Co. in Trenton, N.J., and is on the board of the Eastern Building Material Dealers Association. Five years ago, the group was insuring 5,000 people - owners and employees of its member companies.

But in the last six to seven years, several states enacted laws to reform workers compensation and insurance packages. …