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Survey Finds Support for Enzi-Nelson Insurance Bill

MARCH 30, 2006 -- Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., made another pitch for their small business health plan bill (S 1955) on Thursday, unveiling a poll they said showed broad public support for their legislation.

The poll, conducted by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and GOP pollsters Public Opinion Strategies, was done on behalf of the National Association of Realtors, a strong supporter of the bill.

The survey found a total of 89 percent of voters favored a small business health plan when presented as a bill that "requires congressional approval so that private health insurance companies can sell insurance across state lines to the self-employed and small businesses in multiple states." The survey also offered an argument for and an argument against the plans and found that 88 percent of voters found the favorable argument convincing, while 45 percent said the same for the argument against the bill.

The bill aims to make it easier for small businesses to join together to get better rates when purchasing health insurance by allowing them to bypass state coverage mandates. Business groups complain that a confusing array of state mandates make it too complex now to form purchasing groups that operate across state lines.

In an attempt to draw some Democratic support, Enzi's bill includes a provision that would allow insurers to sidestep state laws to design their benefit options only if they also sell a plan that matches a benefit plan offered to state employees of one of the five most populous states. But it will still be a tough sell. Democrats and state officials have argued that the proposal would compromise patient care and override the wishes of state legislatures.

Nelson, the only Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, said members of his party who are interested in learning more about the bill have approached him, and he said they "were continuing to work on it."

A timetable for bringing the bill to the Senate floor has not yet been set, Enzi said, adding, "Members of the coalition will be helping me push for the earliest possible date." He said he also has been talking to House members so that if the measure passes the Senate.

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