House to Vote on Antitrust Overhaul for Health Insurers

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By Alexei Alexis

The House is expected to vote the week of March 20 on legislation that would subject health insurers to greater antitrust scrutiny.

The issue has gained new momentum amid a broader Republican push to overhaul the nation’s health-care system. House Republicans are aiming for a March 23 vote on a measure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, according to Bloomberg News.

The antitrust insurance bill (H.R. 372) is likely to receive a floor vote before then, as early as March 21. Unlike the broader health bill, it has bipartisan support. It would remove an antitrust exemption for health insurers that shields them from liability when they share data or coordinate on creating policy forms.

Opponents say the measure would unnecessarily expose companies to liability for regular business conduct that could be interpreted as price fixing or collusion. Proponents say it would increase competition and lower prices for consumers.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill Feb. 28 by voice vote. Similar legislation won overwhelming support in the House in 2010 but ultimately did not get enacted.

“There’s nobody in their right mind who would vote against this,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), the bill’s chief sponsor, told Bloomberg BNA in a recent interview.

The rising cost of health insurance, particularly within Obamacare exchanges, has been a potent political tool for Republicans hoping to repeal the ACA.

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The health antitrust bill is backed by Consumers Union but has prompted objections from industry groups. America’s Health Insurance Plans, a leading industry association, says the legislation would expose health insurers to increased liability risks while doing little to improve competition in the marketplace.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet on March 20 to discuss procedures for House consideration of the bill, including what, if any, amendments will be allowed.

Proposed amendments include one from Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the House Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, to allow antitrust enforcement for the “business of medical malpractice insurance.”

Congress passed the McCarran-Ferguson Act in 1945 in response to concerns from businesses and states over a Supreme Court decision that said antitrust laws applied to the business of insurance. At the time, small companies trying to enter the health insurance market needed access to data from existing insurers in order to set proper premiums, so Congress exempted them from antitrust violations for sharing data.

The House bill would only remove liability protections for health insurers. Other parts of the insurance industry would be left alone.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexei Alexis in Washington at aalexis@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bna.com

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