The National Association of Realtors is lobbying for Senate passage of healthcare legislation that seeks to expand the access to healthcare by self-employed workers and small businesses.

The legislation, dubbed the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act (S. 1955), was introduced by Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont.

A similar bill, the Small Business Health Fairness Act (H.R. 525), was approved by the House early in 2005.

The Senate version has advanced from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“The legislation would allow the self-employed and small businesses to band together through a trade or professional association to negotiate lower health insurance costs for participants. Small-business health plans would be allowed to provide group health insurance to a sponsoring trade association’s members, regardless of where the member lives, just as large corporate and union health plans currently are able to cover employees and union members nationwide,” the Realtor trade group stated in an announcement today.

“Most Realtors are independent contractors or small-business people who struggle to find low-cost, high-quality healthcare for themselves, their employees and families,” NAR president Thomas M. Stevens said in a statement. “Small-business health plans will give the self-employed and small businesses and the same right to collectively negotiate for quality, affordable health insurance as corporate employees and union members. Realtors are committed to doing everything we can to help Congress enact small-business health plan legislation this year.”

In the past two weeks, NAR members have written over 17,000 letters to members of Congress encouraging them to pass small-business healthcare now, according to the announcement.

According to a 2004 NAR survey, 28 percent of Realtors have no health insurance. About 7 percent of real estate firms offer healthcare coverage for independent contractors, who are the largest segment of real estate agents, the association announced.

“There has been much disagreement over this legislation and some of its provisions. However, the NAR is pleased (the committee has) taken action on legislation that addresses accessibility and affordability of healthcare for millions of uninsured or underinsured Americans,” according to the association announcement.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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