8:01 PM EDT
Marsha Blackburn, R-TN 7th

Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, last September the U.S. Census Bureau released figures that showed that the number of Americans who do not have health insurance has increased to more than 41 million Americans. Of those, 60 percent are employed by small businesses. We know that a great number of these small business owners do want to offer their employees health insurance coverage; but with health insurance costs rising 14.7 percent just in 2002 alone, they are struggling to meet this cost.

House Resolution 660, the Small Business Health Fairness Act, opens the door for small business owners, providing the chance to give their employees high-quality health insurance at an affordable price by allowing associations to form large regional or national groups that can purchase fully insured health insurance which would put growing businesses on a level playing field for larger corporations.

Those opposed to AHPs, as they are called, claim that they will allow ``cherry picking'' or selecting only employees that are young and/or healthy for coverage. In reality, this legislation prohibits an AHP from denying health insurance on the basis of health status. They must follow the same rules on portability, preexisting conditions, and nondiscrimination that large employers must follow.

This legislation also contains solvency provisions that protect employees against the risk of health claims. These health plans must certify through a qualified actuary that an AHP is financially sound.

To conclude, what businesses want is to offer health coverage to their workers. House Resolution 660 gives employers the ability to provide this coverage by allowing small businesses to band together as a trade association to become larger purchasers of health insurance. By saving small businesses, an estimated 15 to 30 percent, compared to the cost of purchasing coverage directly from an insurance company, associated health plans will give more Americans the health benefits they need to provide

for themselves and for their families.