March 14, 2006--A week after delaying its initial vote, a Senate committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would allow small businesses to purchase health insurance directly from business groups and trade associations.

After years of political wrangling and the failure of several similar bills, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is expected to consider a bill authored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) that would allow small businesses to band together with fellow members and purchase association health plans. Under the bill, industry or business groups could take part in AHPs to offer health insurance plans to members across state lines.

Proponents of AHPs -- also referred to as Small Business Health Plans -- say the bill would allow small businesses to access the larger risk pools and lower premiums normally available to large corporations.

A study released on Mar. 7 by Mercer Oliver Wyman, a financial-services and risk-management consulting firm based in New York, predicted that Enzi’s bill would decrease premiums for all small employers by 12%, though the savings could vary by state. The study also projected that the bill would increase the number of insured persons in the small-group market by 900,000.

Opponents have expressed concern that the bill would override existing state health-care regulations that mandate coverage for critical services like cancer screening and diabetes treatment. The Enzi bill, as currently formulated, would require AHPs to provide coverage for only those medical treatments that are required in at least 45 states.