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Congress passes bill to prevent premium increases for smaller companies under Obama health law


WASHINGTON — Congress approved bipartisan legislation Thursday aimed at preventing premium increases that some smaller businesses were expecting next year under President Barack Obama's health care law.

The measure, which Obama is expected to sign, represents an uncommon instance in which both parties have rallied behind an effort to revamp part of Obama's signature health care overhaul. Most congressional efforts to retool the statute have been Republican drives to repeal it or scale it back that Democrats have blocked.

Currently, the health law defines small businesses as those having up to 50 employees. That number expands on January 1 to 100.

The bill approved Thursday would keep the small business definition at 50 workers but let states increase the number if they choose.

Under current law, companies considered small businesses must offer certain required benefits. Business groups complained that increasing the number of firms classified as small businesses would increase health care costs for many employers whose benefits today are less generous.

When Democrats pushed the health care overhaul through Congress in 2010, they believed that increasing the number of companies classified as small businesses would help stabilize that insurance market by adding additional customers.

The Senate sent the bill to Obama by a voice vote. It was sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Tim Scott, R-S.C.

It passed by voice vote Monday in the House, where the sponsor was Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.

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