Eighteen Senate Dems revive call to end insurers' anti-trust exemption

The campaign to end health insurers' federal anti-trust exemption reemerged on Wednesday, as 18 Senate Democrats urged their party's leaders to preserve the repeal in their final healthcare bill.

The House's legislation would end the anti-trust provision, but the Senate's proposal would not. The repeal's 18 sponsors consequently asked party leaders to adopt the lower chamber's approach, stressing a repeal was the only way to drive down costs and foster competition among insurance companies.

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"There is simply no reason for health insurance and medical malpractice insurance companies to be exempt from Federal laws prohibiting price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation. These acts hurt consumers, drive up health care costs, and should be prohibited in the health insurance industry, as they are in virtually every other industry," wrote the 18 lawmakers, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), to the party's leaders.

The House was able to include in their healthcare legislation last year a provision that would have ended the long-standing, anti-trust exemption on insurance companies, but the Senate was far less successful.

While a repeal amendment spearheaded by Leahy had the support of 23 senators, "there was no opportunity for it to be offered during Senate debate," some of those lawmakers acknowledged in their letter on Wednesday. At issue seemed to be a lack of support, particularly from Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the bill's crucial, 60th vote.

However, the amendment's supporters now view the conference process as a last chance to append their antitrust repeal to healthcare reform legislation. President Barack Obama reportedly supports the House's approach, but it remains unclear what the provision's fate might be.

"This reform is long overdue and the time to act is now," the lawmakers wrote. "We look forward to working with you to ensure that repeal of the antitrust exemption for health insurers and medical malpractice insurers is included in the final health insurance reform bill that is signed into law."