As legislators work to craft a final health care reform bill, insurers are seeking to stop inclusion of a provision that would eliminate industry antitrust exemptions created by the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

The House health care reform bill contains a partial repeal of McCarran-Ferguson for health and medical liability insurers, but the Senate version does not. Industry associations are lobbying to ensure such a repeal does not make it into the final version.

“If enacted, a repeal will do more harm than good,” Marliss McManus, senior federal affairs director for National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) said in a statement, charging that proponents of a repeal demonstrate a lack of understanding about insurance. “Seeking to repeal the limited exemption for medial liability insurers is especially curious, given that it runs counter to the goals expressed by health care reform supporters. We would simply ask those members with concerns about the McCarran-Ferguson provision to look carefully at what it does and what it doesn’t do. Collusion among insurers, as with any other industry, is already illegal.”

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) struck a similar tone in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.).  “The business of insurance, while exempted from federal antitrust law, is still subject to state antitrust enforcement actions,” the letter, penned by NAIC President and West Virginia Insurance Commissioner Cline, states. “In fact, even if the McCarran-Ferguson antitrust exemption were repealed, the state action doctrine exemption would continue to apply. The most likely result of this repeal would therefore not be increased competition, but a series of lawsuits testing the limits of the state action doctrine, with associated litigation costs being passed along to consumers in the form of higher premiums. We would recommend against including provisions limiting the McCarran-Ferguson Act in the conference report.”


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