ACCA supports association health plans, citing affordable health insurance as a number one priority.

ARLINGTON, Va. - The number of Americans without health insurance rose from 43.6 million in 2002 to 45 million in 2003, according to numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The statistic was mentioned in a press release from Paul T. Stalkhnecht, president and CEO of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, to highlight the need for "association" health plans, which would allow small-business groups to bargain for cheaper health care costs. The ACCA has been a longtime supporter of changing federal law to allow the practice and believes the current census data reaffirms the need.

"Affordable health care is the No. 1 priority for our contractor members, their employees and their families," wrote Stalknecht. "A recent survey of ACCA members showed that, on average, small contracting businesses are paying over 60 percent more for health insurance than they were just three years ago. Almost all of these contractors employ fewer than 25 people, and they are being forced to either reduce insurance coverage or stop offering it altogether just to keep their business doors open."

Stalknehct said the key to combating rising health insurance costs is to allow small businesses to pool together and create greater purchasing power. He said that Fortune 500 companies and labor unions already use this system.

The U.S. House has twice passed legislation supporting association health plans.