July 28, 2005--The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that would allow more small businesses to afford health insurance for their employees.

The bill would establish Association Health Plans, which are group plans sponsored by trade or professional organizations. Essentially, small businesses would be able to band together to purchase health insurance at the low costs available to large corporations.

Supporters believe AHPs are the answer for millions of uninsured American workers. According to the NFIB, 63% of the 27 million uninsured workers are employed by companies with fewer than 100 employees and 65% of small businesses blame high cost as the main reason they don't offer health insurance coverage.

President Bush lauded the Small Business Health Fairness Act. "AHPs are a fair, innovative, and commonsense approach to make health insurance more affordable and accessible'¦ By letting small businesses join together to buy health insurance at the same discounts big companies get, this bill will help workers and their families have more health care choices and obtain greater savings," he said in a statement.

The bill exempts AHPs from state regulations, which critics say would incur more fraud and less basic coverage for individuals. Patient advocacy groups and insurers, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, oppose the bill.

Though the reform has been introduced and passed in the House several times before, it has never made it past the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. This time around, bill sponsor Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) has a new ally in the Senate committee's chairman, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who has expressed his desire to push the legislation to the Senate floor after the August recess.