Legislation that would permit the formation of Small Business Health Plans
took a step forward March 15 when a Senate committee approved the measure. The full Senate is
expected to vote on the bill in late April or early May.
Formerly known as Association Health Plans legislation, the Small Business
Health Plans bill would allow trade groups such as the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National
Association to offer health-care coverage to its members. Under the legislation, smaller
plumbing-and-HVAC contracting firms would be able to offer their employees benefits that would be
equivalent to those offered by large corporations and labor unions.
U.S. Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., told PHCC members March 16 that she was optimistic
that if the Senate passes the SBHP legislation, the House of Representatives would pass it too
because it is a passion of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. She said a great appeal of
SBHPs is that they will allow industries such as construction to develop a plan that is specific to
PHCC members were in Washington March 16 to attend the association's 10th
annual Legislative Day. Kelly and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., spoke at a PHCC members-only breakfast
where Burr cautioned that passage of SBHP legislation could be a long process. Although he said that
such health plans could help ease some health issues, Burr described the current political atmosphere
in Washington as divisive, which has caused an inability to consider big issues. He noted that reforms
in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security also need to be addressed in the health-care debate.
Kelly brought health into her remarks on tort reform as well. She encouraged
PHCC contractors to ask for health studies by the Centers for Disease Control related to mold exposure
so that more scientific information is available to fight frivolous lawsuits. In addition, Kelly talked
about the need for tax relief for small businesses, such as permanent repeal of the estate tax.
Before heading to Capitol Hill appointments to visit the offices of their elected
representatives, the 100 PHCC members attending Legislative Day were told they had the distinction that
day of being the only group that would be speaking on behalf of the entire industry. The members were
challenged to make the most of their day and not be timid in voicing concerns.
"Our members essentially were representing the 80,000-plus p-h-c contractors in
the U.S., and they took this role very seriously," PHCC President Jim Stack said. "I think it was very
rewarding for them to know they were part of a very important process in American government."