Democrats want to revoke insurance’s antitrust exemption in healthcare reform bill

Sponsors of a bill to revoke the antitrust exemption of the health insurance industry will try to add it to the House healthcare overhaul when it comes before the Rules Committee.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a lead co-sponsor of the bill, said Tuesday she would like to see the measure wrapped into the healthcare legislation by the committee, or seek to have Rules allow a floor vote on the amendment. The House Judiciary Committee is to vote on the bill Wednesday.

ADVERTISEMENT
Supporters of the legislation say that while lawmakers try to instill competition in healthcare markets, they should also make price-fixing illegal.

“Why are our insurance companies exempt from antitrust laws?” DeGette said. “There are only two industries with that exemption: insurance and Major League Baseball. If it ever had a rationale, it’s no longer operative.”

DeGette said she has heard very little opposition to the bill.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and other Democrats have introduced a similar bill.

The health insurance industry angered many Democrats earlier this month when its trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), issued a report saying some provisions of the Senate Finance Committee’s healthcare bill would raise premiums. Critics said the study excluded provisions that would lower premiums.

But supporters say the antitrust push has nothing to do with anger at the report or the industry.

AHIP has told lawmakers that the exemption is misunderstood and does not prevent the application of antitrust laws. Instead, AHIP President Karen Ignani wrote to lawmakers that it simply recognizes that states play a central role in regulating insurance.

“Health insurance is one of the most significantly regulated areas of the economy,” Ignani wrote.