House Votes To Repeal Antitrust Exemption for Health Insurance Firms
On Wednesday, the House voted 406-19 to end a 65-year-old antitrust exemption for health insurance companies, part of Democrats' broader strategy to revive their health reform efforts ahead of Thursday's bipartisan health care summit, Roll Call reports (Dennis, Roll Call, 2/25).
The bill (HR 4626) would amend the 1945 McCarran-Ferguson Act, which exempts insurers from federal antitrust law if they are regulated by the states.
The legislation drew overwhelming GOP support, although Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) speculated that questions about the bill's prospects in the Senate -- where the bill now moves for consideration -- might have helped collect GOP votes. Specifically, DeFazio suggested that House Republicans might have received a "wink and a nod" from their Senate counterparts (Ethridge, CQ Today, 2/24).
Push for Greater Insurance Industry Regulation
The measure's approval came after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week asked executives from five insurance companies to justify rate hikes. House Democrats on Wednesday held a hearing to confront Anthem Blue Cross of California officials about plans to increase individual policyholders' premiums by up to 39% (Werner/Fram, AP/Boston Globe, 2/25).
Democrats hope the billâs passage and approval of additional, smaller bills in the near future, will fuel momentum for larger issues (Dennis, Roll Call, 2/25).
Questions Over Possible Impact
The bill's proponents contend that 95% of the insurance industry is highly concentrated and that the exemption allows companies to collude, divvy up markets and price-fix, while charging higher premiums (CQ Today, 2/24).
However, some experts say ending the exemption will neither spur competition nor reduce premiums.According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis conducted in October, repealing the exemption would have "no significant effects" on the federal budget or private insurance premiums, further noting that the impact would be "quite small" if premiums did fluctuate up or down (Gold, Kaiser Health News, 2/24). 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.