The Arizona House on Wednesday joined the Senate in approving legislation allowing small businesses to join together and create new health insurance plans backers say will lower costs.
Many House Democrats argued in opposition that the new "association health plans" aren't required to cover essential services required by the Affordable Care Act and can charge more for older workers and women. They called them "junk" insurance plans.
Republican backers of the proposal and some Democrats rejected that characterization during debate Wednesday. The measure passed on a 38-21 vote and now goes to the governor for action. The proposal by GOP Sen. Kate Brophy McGee will allow small employers to band together to create self-insurance pools or to negotiate lower insurance rates.
The new plans are allowed under Trump administration rules that side-step many provisions of the Affordable Care Act. A federal judge in late March invalidated the rules, but the government is appealing.
Republican Rep. Nancy Barto championed the proposal in the House, saying it gives a lower-cost option to many small businesses that can't afford Affordable Care Act premiums. Barto acknowledged the plans can exclude some essential coverage, but she noted that some existing plans have gotten high marks.
"What we're doing here is incredible common sense," Barto said. "And that is government getting out of the way and allowing more small businesses to take advantage of the opportunity to offer insurance to their employees."
Many Democrats weren't persuaded.
"These plans are dangerous because they do not cover people with pre-existing conditions, they don't guarantee coverage and they weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions," said Rep. Kelli Butler, a Democrat from Paradise Valley. "We should not be doing that. We should be making sure that all the health plans that we're offering are quality and the health reforms that we undertake need to ensure quality options."
The federal judge who struck down the plans touted by President Donald Trump called them "clearly an end run" around consumer protections required by the Affordable Care Act.
Brophy McGee touted her proposal at a news conference early last month. She said they were needed to allow businesses to access cheaper and better health insurance plans to offer their employees.
"There has been so much misinformation put out about association health plans," she said. "They are high-quality affordable plans. They have consumer protections. They have health care anti-discrimination protections.
"AHPs will not be allowed to prohibit pre-existing conditions, they cannot cancel coverage when someone becomes ill and they can't charge different premiums for members based on their health status," she added.
The proposal was backed by business groups and opposed by many health advocacy groups.