Association health bill fails despite senators support

Some powerful business groups charge that association health plans, one of the cornerstones of the Bush administration's attempt to reform the medical system, would harm those companies that choose not to participate. Also, say opponents, AHPs would lead to expensive federal regulations, unpaid medical bills, and increased marketplace fraud.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business are among those that have joined forces to oppose the measure, which proponents hope to send to Congress again. They charge that AHPs would redistribute rising insurance costs, rather than shrink them.

“What AHPs really do is rearrange the costs, not bring down costs,” says Todd McCracken, president of National Small Business Association, a lobbying group. “It doesn't really tackle the fundamental underlying cost issues.”

Not so, say advocates of AHPs. They maintain that upon passage of any long-sought bill approving AHPs, the insurance costs for participating companies will decrease without the subsequent increase in costs for the nonparticipating companies.

They also claim that chances are better than ever that Congress will pass an AHP bill soon, thanks to President Bush's more adamant support for the proposal.