Retailers welcome return of AHP legislation

The National Retail Federation has welcomed the reintroduction of legislation in Congress on Feb. 2 that would authorize creation of “Association Health Plans” (AHP) to help small businesses meet the rising health insurance costs. The concept has long had the backing of a number of business groups, including the NRF, Jewelers of America, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

“The rising cost of employee health insurance is one of the biggest challenges facing retailers today,” said K. Conwell Smith, NRF Senior Director for Government Relations. “Retailers value their employees and want to provide them with insurance coverage, but skyrocketing costs are making that more difficult every year.”

“Small employers are hit the hardest by health care costs, and that’s why we need Association Health Plans,” Smith said. “Small retailers need to be able to get the big-group rates that AHPs would allow. AHPs can help companies that are struggling with these costs to keep on providing insurance, and can make it possible for companies that can’t afford health insurance today to start offering coverage in the future.

“More than half the people who don’t have health insurance work for small companies,” notes Smith, “so this would be an extremely effective tool in reducing the numbers of the uninsured.”

Rep. Sam Johnson, (R-Texas), chairman of the House Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee, led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in introducing H.R. 525 (“The Small Business Health Fairness Act”) in the House of Representatives. The bill would let trade associations establish Association Health Plans to allow member companies to band together and purchase insurance coverage at the lower rates available to large groups. The bill, supported by President Bush, was co-sponsored by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio)chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and Representatives Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Albert Wynn (D-Md.), among others.

Approximately 60% of the nation’s uninsured are employees of small businesses. NRF, which has backed a multi-faceted approach to reducing health costs including Health Savings Accounts and medical malpractice reform, has supported the AHP concept since it was first proposed in the mid-1990s.

The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association. It represents more than 100 state, national and international retail associations, some 1.4 million U.S. retail establishments, more than 23 million employees—about one in five American workers—and 2004 sales of $4.1 trillion.