The Senate quietly passed a bill that would overturn the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of the small-group insurance market on Thursday—and it did so with surprisingly little fanfare.
The legislation, passed by voice vote, gets rid of the ACA’s requirement that states increase the definition of their small-group market from employers with 50 or fewer employees to 100 or fewer by Jan. 1, 2016. The change would have subjected many small and midsized businesses to different rules. Among those was the requirement for certain essential health benefits to be covered, which is not required in the large-group market.
The House passed the bill by a voice vote on Monday.
The bill is one of only a handful of stand-alone changes to the ACA that have successfully headed for the president’s desk. And this one was able to do so with none of the usual drama that accompanies any mention of the law.
“While the Affordable Care Act continues to divide Congress, today we’ve made real progress towards improving this law,” wrote Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in a statement after the bill’s passage. “This legislation will make a helpful adjustment to the Affordable Care Act for small and mid-size businesses by limiting potential premium increases and letting the states determine what’s best for their market. This bill is a win for businesses across this country, a win for bipartisanship and I’m very pleased it’s headed to the President’s desk.”
Shaheen authored the Senate version of the measure with Republican Sen. Tim Scott. The bill allows individual states to decide whether to change their small-group definition.
“I look forward to President Obama quickly signing this measure because it is vital that we maintain the current definition of a small group market and give states the flexibility to expand the size of group markets if the conditions in their state necessitate the change,” Scott said in the statement.
As recently as this week, senators had said the bill would need to go through the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee before it could be brought to the Senate floor for a vote, despite the looming deadline for the change to take affect.
Lawmakers opposed the definition change on the ground that it could increase premiums for midsized employers, leading them to self-insure and therefore raising premiums even further for those remaining in the risk pool. Several groups representing small and midsized businesses were advocating for its repeal.
“We commend Congress for passing this bipartisan legislation to protect small and midsized employers, their employees, and their families from higher health insurance premiums,” said Alissa Fox, a senior vice president with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, after the vote.
Caitlin Owens is a health care reporter at National Journal. Her work has previously appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.