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Small Business Health Bill Faces Test

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Small businesses are hailing a Bush administration bill intended to help with soaring health care costs, but critics say it would strip away patient protections.

The House began debating the legislation Thursday, but the real fight is brewing in the Senate.

The measure would let small businesses anywhere in the country buy into national group health insurance plans. It's part of a White House plan to extend health coverage to some of the nation's 41 million uninsured.

So-called association health plans exist now, sponsored by groups such as chambers of commerce. But they are limited to the state level, where they must conform with state rules and regulations for what the plans cover.

"Small businesses could pool their resources and increase their bargaining power with benefit providers," said Republican Rep. John Boehner, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The idea is to give small businesses the same kinds of plans available to big corporations and labor unions. The result, supporters argue, would be better rates, higher quality and lower costs.