Small construction company owners could benefit from ‘Health Fairness Act’

Congress’s pending approval of the Small Business Health Fairness Act could give small construction company owners more affordable health care for employees, according to the Associated Builders and Contractors organization.

The legislation was introduced in the U.S House of Representatives and would allow all small businesses to join together nationwide through federally certified association health plans.

“The skyrocketing cost of health care premiums is a major concern for small construction firms and their employees,” said Kirk Pickerel, ABC president and chief executive. “This legislation provides a common-sense, no-cost solution that will help ensure many more U.S. construction workers have access to the health care they need and deserve.”

The House twice approved similar AHP legislation during the 108th Congress — on June 19, 2003, and again on May 13, 2004. Both bills passed with wide bipartisan majorities.

A companion AHP legislation, S. 545, was introduced in the U.S. Senate during the 108th Congress, but the chamber never voted on the bill.

Rep. Sam Johnson,R-Texas, chairman of the House committee on education and the workforce’s subcommittee on employer-employee relations, introduced the latest AHP legislation. A bipartisan group of legislators, including Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., and Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner, R-Ohio, back the bill. President Bush also expressed strong support for the legislation and repeatedly called for the Senate to consider it.

“In the new year, the president has continued to tout AHPs as a solution for helping to control the spiraling cost of health care for America’s small businesses,” Pickeral said. He said the ABC would continue to work for passage of the bill.

In a Jan. 26 “Conversation on Health Care” at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., President Bush joined a panel of small business owners and association officials to discuss ways to help curb the skyrocketing cost of health care premiums in the United States.

Bush said the health plans would effectively allow small businesses to buy health care insurance at the same discount larger companies receive.

“The principle behind association health plans is that the more risk you’re able to spread amongst beneficiaries, the lower your cost of health care,” Bush said in the panel discussion. “And, unfortunately, too many laws restrict small businesses from being able to pool risk.”

The president also said AHPs would help small businesses reduce the number of uninsured workers in the United States, a “social objective” that trumps certain interests “jealously guarding jurisdictional lines, for whatever the reason.”

Additionally, the president touted the cost benefits of tax-free health savings accounts. He said the money saved in an HSA could be used to pay medical expenses that would normally be credited against the deductible.

Any unused amount in an HAS would remain in the account from year to year, gaining interest tax-free, similar to an individual retirement account. Bush said HSAs are completely portable, and would stay with individual even if they change employers.

“Congress needs to understand that, on the one hand, you cannot complain about people who don’t have insurance…and then not allow small businesses to be able to have the opportunities in the marketplace — the same opportunities afforded companies with…large employee bases,” he said.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at pbeeson@randallpub.com.