The automotive aftermarket unanimously expressed disappointment over the Senate's recent failure to pass legislation establishing Small Business Health Plans (SBHPs) to make health insurance more affordable to small businesses.
At the same time, aftermarket representatives noted this was the first time the Senate has ever even considered SBHP legislation on its floor, and expressed hope it wouldn't be the last.
On May 12, the Senate voted 55-43 to invoke cloture and proceed to a vote on the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act, sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to invoke cloture.
The vote was nearly straight party-line. Only two Democrats-Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana-voted for the bill. One Republican, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, voted against.
``It is very frustrating that a minority of lawmakers could not put aside election-year politics to provide health care relief to millions of small business owners, their employees and their families,'' said Chris Kersting, president and CEO of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), in a May 12 press release.
The bill would have granted small business associations the right to negotiate across state lines with insurance carriers for low-cost health insurance premiums for their members.
The Tire Industry Association (TIA) added its voice to the chorus of disappointment over the bill's failure.
``There could not have been a greater grassroots effort from any coalition,'' said Paul Fiore, TIA director of government and business affairs. ``Unfortunately, this emphasizes the disconnect from the small business community that exists with many members of the Senate.''
Supporters said the bill was the surest way to obtain health care coverage for small business employees without bankrupting their employers, and noted that large corporations already have the right to negotiate for health care policies across state lines. Opponents, however, claimed the bill would pre-empt insurance rules in 26 states that mandated mammograms, pediatrics, diabetes care and other crucial benefits in all health insurance policies.
Sen. Enzi and other supporters added many amendments to the original bill to answer its critics. One amendment, from Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, forbade pre-emption of the 26 state mandates.
It was unclear whether the Senate would reconsider the SBHP bill before adjourning this fall for congressional elections. However, groups such as SEMA, the Automotive Service Association and TIA vowed to keep working toward the bill's passage.
The House of Representatives passed its current version of SBHP legislation last July. That was the eighth such bill the House has approved.