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Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act of 2006

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Wyoming. I congratulate him for a superb job in crafting this important measure to deal with what many of us think is one of the most pressing problems confronting our country. I have talked to a lot of people in my State, and right up there with gas prices today, they raise the issue of affordability of health insurance.

I have heard from workers who fear that their employer may have to cut back on their coverage. I have met with employers who are concerned that high health care costs prevent them from investing in their businesses and creating new jobs. It would be safe to say I am confident that most if not all of our colleagues have had similar experiences in their own States.

These are real concerns. In every sort of noon-time civic club engagement I have, this is the first thing people bring up. Health premiums have increased nearly three times the rate of inflation, and the percentage of employers offering health care benefits continues to decline.

This is a particular problem for our small employers and entrepreneurs. These are the people who create the majority of the new jobs in our country. Sixty percent of the working uninsured--those Americans who have jobs but don't have health insurance--are either self-employed or they are employed by small businesses.

The sad truth is, it is too darn expensive for many small businesses to provide health coverage to their employees in our country today.

There are a lot of reasons for this.

First, small businesses don't have as much negotiating clout with insurers when they are negotiating premiums as large businesses do. It makes sense. That leaves them stuck, of course, with higher costs.

Also, employees in small firms must absorb a larger share of their plan's administrative costs because there are fewer employees to share those costs.

Third, small businesses must typically purchase care in the uncompetitive, expensive, small group market.

Add all of these factors up and small business health care costs become too expensive for many small businesses to afford.

Small business, as we all know, is the engine that drives the American economy. We must allow them to band together so they can buy health insurance at lower costs so that our people and our economy can keep moving full speed ahead. I commend the HELP Committee for reporting a bill that will do just that.

Finally, I commend Chairman Enzi who has done a magnificent job in moving this legislation forward.

It addresses the unique challenges facing small businesses by allowing them to join together across State lines to offer insurance to their employees. This will give them the needed purchasing power to get a better deal on insurance policies.

Enacting the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act will address many of these problems all at once. It will reduce health care premiums. It will increase the number of Americans with insurance. It will reduce the Medicaid rolls. And, most importantly, while doing all of this, the bill will not increase the burden on the taxpayers.

That is not just my opinion; these are the findings of the nonpartisan experts at the Congressional Budget Office. Their cost estimate for S. 1955 shows that the bill will reduce health care premiums in the small group market by 2 to 3 percent. That is important because we know that with every 1-percent change in premiums, 200,000 to 300,000 Americans are able to afford insurance.

So do the math. According to the Congressional Budget Office estimates, 700,000 Americans who would be uninsured under current law--who are currently uninsured--would be covered under the Enzi proposal; 700,000 Americans who would be uninsured under current law, would be insured under Chairman Enzi's proposal.

By helping small businesses expand coverage for their employees, CBO estimates that 135,000 Americans, who without the Enzi bill would be on Medicaid, would now receive private insurance under the Enzi bill. Clearly, this is the way to go.

Most importantly, and unlike the Democrats' alternative, the bill accomplishes this without increasing the burden on the Federal taxpayers. In fact, the Enzi-Nelson bill will save the taxpayers $3 billion over the next 10 years. Nearly 1 million Americans get better health coverage, and the taxpayers will save the $3 billion I referred to over the next 10 years. This legislation is good, strong medicine.

My colleagues across the aisle have called the plight of small business a ``distraction.'' But this situation that affects the economic engine of our country--the small businesses--is a real problem, not a distraction, and the problem is not getting better on its own. It ought to be addressed.

In 4 of the past 5 years, small businesses paid double-digit increases each year in health insurance premiums. At that rate, more and more employers will be forced to scale back or drop coverage altogether for their employees. The Enzi bill is the first step in righting that crisis.

Again, I commend the HELP Committee for reporting the bill that addresses the challenges facing small businesses.

I also note the tremendous contribution made throughout this process by Senator Talent, who has been a tireless advocate for small business health plans during his tenure in the House and during his 4 years here in the Senate.

This is an important piece of legislation that will address a very significant problem facing many of our small businesses--the high cost of health insurance.

I urge our colleagues to vote to invoke cloture and to support the Enzi bill. It would be an important step in the right direction for Americans.

I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming is recognized.

Mr. ENZI. Mr. President, I thank Senator McConnell. I appreciate all of his effort and help. I appreciate the Senator bringing up Senator Talent. I need to mention Senator Snowe as well. They were the original sponsors of associated health plans on this side. They asked for a hearing. We held a hearing. After the hearing, people on my committee were saying, Golly, this is a problem for small business. What can we do to solve it?

It was also obvious from the discussion that there were some difficulties with the true AHP approach which we modified in the meantime. That is how we got to the position we are now in.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, if the Senator will yield for one question, I have heard the Senator talk about the process by which he developed this legislation. Does he have any idea how many hours he spent consulting with the various entities across America that care about this and trying to move this legislation to this point?

Mr. ENZI. Mr. President, I don't have any idea. I spent a lot of hours and my staff people spent a lot more hours. Senator Nelson's staff and Senator Burns' staff worked on this for so long that I actually thought maybe their staff people worked for me, too.

I was pleased spending days on end and sitting down, understanding all of the parts of this and getting it to work.

Another important part of this, Senator Durbin asked me to talk to him about his plan. I made an appointment that same day and met with Senator Durbin and Senator Lincoln. We tried to work some of the principles which they had into this format. Eventually, we were kind of invited to leave by staff. We need to resolve more of that.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I say to the chairman that this has been a laborious and meticulous effort on his part. He has headed this up, and he has led us in an extraordinary way, and I, on behalf of all Members of the Senate, commend him for this accomplishment.

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