May 2004 -- Small businesses may soon have more options regarding health care for their employees.

Last Wednesday, the 108th Congress passed the Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2004. The bill allows small businesses to band together in order to increase their numbers, allowing them to receive better prices per employee for insurance. The bill, now in the Senate, will also spare these bands of businesses the problematic red tape of pooling together across state lines and allow them to follow the Federal laws larger businesses follow.

Nikki Robinson, an adviser to Congressman Sam Johnson, a Republican from Texas and the sponsor of the bill, said the bill would "allow those businesses who can't afford to offer insurance an affordable way of doing so. It will also help those who do offer health insurance the ability to offer better coverage."

In addition to this, two other bills were also passed giving small-business owners more options in insuring their employees. The first bill allows tax-free savings accounts for health expenses, and the second proposes reforms to comprehensive medical liability, giving more options to employees and employers alike with regards to the soaring costs of healthcare.

"We figure 60% of the 43.6 million American workers without health insurance are either employed by or family members of those who are employed by small businesses," Jamie Amaral, national director of health research and development for the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) said. "Passing these bills turns up the heat a little on the Senate to take action and help small businesses provide affordable health insurance."

The Small Business Health Fairness Act is now in the Senate, being sponsored by Senator Olympia J. Snowe, a Republican from Maine, and according to the NFIB, is gaining bipartisan support.