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WASHINGTON-The House recently passed a bill to help small businesses, including credit unions, cope with the escalating costs of health insurance programs. The Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2003 (H.R. 660) was approved by the House in a near party line vote of 262-162, with mainly Republicans voting in favor. It was passed on to the Senate and referred to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Congressman Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) is the primary sponsor of the legislation, which has 162 co-sponsors including Small Business Committee Chairman Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.). The legislation would create national Association Health Plans, enabling small businesses to purchase health insurance through national associations by trade, industry, profession, chamber of commerce, or similar business associations, and which meet certain Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 certification requirements, at group rates. ERISA includes federal preemptions of state laws, and therefore, AHPs would be exempt from state regulation. The legislation also would commission a study by Jan. 1, 2008 of the effect, if any, AHPs have had on the number of uninsured individuals. CUNA has written a letter in support of the legislation, pointing out that only 39% of small credit unions even provide health insurance to their CEOs, according to CUNA’s 2001 Credit Union Staff Benefits Survey. “Experts estimate that roughly 40 million Americans are currently uninsured with premium levels serving as a key impediment to more widespread coverage,” the letter to Manzullo from CUNA president and CEO Dan Mica read. “As with national trends, credit unions are also seeing their health care costs become a large and quickly increasing share of benefit costs. And for many small credit union, health care is simply too expensive.” Mica added that CUNA would also be interested in expanding the AHPs to allow credit unions to offer discounted policies to small businesses within their fields of membership. A NAFCU spokesperson said that the group is also tracking the legislation and performing early analysis. [email protected]

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