Bill could make health insurance cheaper for small businesses

A health care act making its way through the U.S. Senate could help small businesses gain equal footing with large companies in purchasing affordable health insurance for employees.

The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act would enable small businesses to join together in purchasing health care coverage. This would allow them to receive rates usually reserved for large companies and unions. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved the legislation on March 15 and the bill will now head to a full Senate vote. The House of Representatives approved a companion bill, the Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2005, in July.

“Our Country’s small, entrepreneurial businesses will be better equipped to handle rising health care costs once this legislation is passed,” said Kirk Pickerel, president and chief executive of the Associated Builders and Contractors, one of the bill’s major supporters. “This legislation levels the playing field and allows small businesses to provide their employees with better access to high-quality, affordable health care.”

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said he sponsored the bill in response to pleas from small business trade associations that wanted to provide group health insurance. The bill would give small business owners a choice between basic and enhanced packages of benefits.

“Today’s vote is the first major step in 15 years toward more affordable health insurance options for small business and working families,” said Enzi. “The people who make up the bedrock of our economy – small, family owned businesses, have issued a mandate for change.”

The Senate committee approved the bill after a study prepared by Milwaukee firm Mercer Oliver Wyman for the National Small Business Association concluded the legislation would:

· Reduce health insurance costs for small businesses by 12 percent, about $1,000 per employee
· Reduce the number of uninsured members of working families by 8 percent, approximately 1 million people