Insurance price-fixing

Meanwhile, the proposal to repeal the antitrust exemption for the insurance industry, with strong Democratic and some Republican support, should be passed as separate legislation.

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Exempting the insurance industry, which has a horrific record of punishing premium increases and monopolistic practices in state after state, is ridiculous.

The insurance industry should not be exempt from the laws that govern other industries. We have seen the result for consumers and voters. They are not happy.

Once the antitrust exemption is repealed and cases are brought, change comes. The legal process of discovery, subpoena of documents and questioning of insurance executives in depositions and court testimony under oath will reveal why premiums are so high and why so many consumers suffer monopoly-style abuse.

When evidence in antitrust cases is made public, the voter outrage will be so immense that the pending public option will be mild compared to the consumer protections voters will demand.

The healthcare bill will have little impact for years. Repealing the antitrust exemption will have impact within weeks on companies that continue aggressive premium increases.

Members of Congress fighting for the rule of law and lower premiums will reap huge rewards with voters. Members fighting to continue legalized price-fixing and market collusion will be punished. Their progressive opponents will have a powerful electoral weapon.

Here is the deal: Pass the public option and put aside the antitrust issue for now. Watch how the new system works. Kill the public option and Congress must end the legalized price-fixing and collusion, now and forever, to police a giant force-feed of 30 million to 40 million customers to private insurers with a long history of abuse.

Progressive members of the House and Senate should refuse to support any healthcare bill without a public option while Congress moves to pass the repeal of the insurance exemption. This prospect may inspire insurers to tell those they shower with campaign money to accept the public option.

Public option supporters have won the debate in a landslide. While other parts of the bill lost support after the onslaught by opponents, the public option support surges.

The American people support the public option. A majority of the House and Senate supports the public option. Four of five congressional committees that considered the bill support it. With mounting and widely despised deficits, the public option lowers the deficit. The stronger the public option, the lower the deficit.

The public option as written in the House or Senate bill must be included. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) can kill healthcare reform because of their fanatical opposition to a program that lowers the deficit, creates real choice and is supported by a majority of their colleagues and the nation.

When history calls, they will have to tell constituents why they killed reform, voting for higher premiums and deficits, less choice and more pricing-fixing, and put insurance lobbyists and campaign donors ahead of them.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.