ANNAPOLIS -- The House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill yesterday to help small companies with the rising costs of health care.
If it passes the Senate, the measure, known as "small group market reform," is likely to become the broadest health care reform effort to pass the General Assembly this year.
House Bill 374 was sponsored by the entire Economic Matters Committee. Its chairman, Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, has conceded that the legislature will not be able to enact a fundamental reform this year that provides universal access to health care.
Instead, small group market reform is aimed at easing the burden of health care costs on some employers, and possibly attracting others into the system.
The bill would require insurers to offer coverage to any company with 25 or fewer employees, and to each employee in those companies, regardless of health. Insurers would be allowed to wait 10 months before covering pre-existing medical conditions but only until August 1997.
Savings would come from provisions limiting the wide differences in prices insurers charge based, for example, on how old or how healthy a company's work force is and what industry the company is in.
The bill also would limit the amount by which an insurer could increase a small employer's rates from year to year. It also includes a mechanism to allow for pooling some of the excess costs that would result from such a plan.
Some observers warn that because of the bill's complexity, its only chance of passing is if those involved in health care can present a unified front before the Senate Finance Committee, which is expected to take up the bill this week.