March 7, 2006--After years of gridlock, a health-care bill that would allow small businesses to pool insurance costs across state lines remained stalled in the Senate on Wednesday.

Supporters of the measure were optimistic that a vote would come on Wednesday, since the bill had finally reached committee, but it is now delayed until at least next week.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), would let small employers form so-called association health plans with trade and industry groups -- the first time such legislation has made it this far in the Senate. The House has passed several bills allowing similar plans in recent years.

In a statement Tuesday, Enzi said he was "deeply disappointed" by dozens of amendments filed ahead of this week's debate in an effort to block the bill's passage.

"I hope we can still have a constructive discussion," he added.

Supporters say the bill would force insurers to offer more competitive rates to small businesses, while state regulators and others critics say it lets employers bypass state insurance regulations.

Business owners have long cited rising insurance costs as a primary concern.

Health-insurance premiums have surged 73% since 2000, according to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based health-care policy research group. In 2005, annual premiums for family coverage reached $10,880, with workers paying about $2,713, or 26%, the study showed.