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SENATE NEARS ACTION ON TRANSFERRING HEALTH COVERAGE

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A bill that would ensure workers the right to buy their existing health insurance when they change jobs or become self-employed is nearing Senate action.

"I think it will be brought up prior to May 3, but not before April 15," Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., said Tuesday.People covered by group health plans, even those with pre-existing health problems, would not experience any gap in coverage when they change employers as long as their premiums are paid.

Also, workers who leave an employer who provided health coverage to strike out on their own could not be denied the opportunity to purchase individual coverage.

More than 40 senators from both parties signed on as co-sponsors with Kassebaum and the measure's other author, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Similar legislation is pending in the House.

But the health insurance industry opposes the group-to-individual coverage part of the bill, and several senators joined to delay debate.

Their identities were never officially revealed, but the logjam broke Tuesday when Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., got Kassebaum's agreement to put off consideration until at least April 15.

Grams said that will give the Senate time to act on matters he considers more pressing, including the budget, welfare reform and tax relief.