House Panel OKs Bill To Repeal Insurers’ Antitrust Exemption
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted 20-9 to approve a bill (HR 3596) that would repeal some of the health insurance industry's antitrust exemptions, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee reports (Lightman, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, 10/22).
House leaders said that the bill would be included in the chamber's final health reform legislation, which is being prepared for a floor debate (Smith/Whitesides, Reuters, 10/21).
Likewise, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said that he plans to fold legislation (S 1681) to repeal the exemptions into the chamber's reform bill (McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, 10/22).
Last month, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Leahy introduced the bills to repeal the 60-year-old antitrust exemption for health and medical malpractice insurance companies, in part to address the issue of rising premiums.
Under proposed legislation, the exemption -- which was granted in 1945 -- would be eliminated to make health and malpractice insurers accountable under antitrust laws that ban price-fixing, bid-rigging and dividing markets (American Health Line, 9/21).
In a letter to Leahy and Conyers, Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, said, "Health insurance is one of the most significantly regulated areas of the economy" (McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, 10/22).
The House Vote
The bill considered in the House Judiciary Committee had bipartisan support, with three Republicans -- Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas), Dan Lungren (Calif.) and Tom Rooney (Fla.) -- joining the panel's Democrats in voting for the measure (Carter, CQ Today, 10/21).
Some Republicans said the measure is a ploy to weaken private insurers' opposition to parts of Democratic health reform proposals. Members of the GOP also take issue with the exemption repeal itself.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said that the bill would not stimulate competition.
House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said, "It's doubtful that this legislation will do anything beneficial for the customer."
They both said that the Judiciary Committee's time would be better spent on tort reform (Noyes/Friedman, CongressDaily, 10/21).
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "Providing antitrust exemptions for insurance companies has been anti-competitive and damaging to the American family and the American economy" (Noyes/Friedman, CongressDaily, 10/21).
Republicans argued that Senate Democrats timed their strategy on the antitrust exemption to obscure their defeat on a bill that would have fixed payment rates for physicians under Medicare (Espo, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.