The effort to strip insurers of antitrust protections is an increasingly public one. Late Wednesday, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. Patrick Leahy and Charles Schumer (D.- N.Y.) held a press conference to announce their intentions to remove some protections insurers enjoy under the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

“During the Senate’s debate on health care reform, I will offer as an amendment the Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act, which will eliminate the antitrust exemption for health insurance and medical malpractice insurance companies and ensure health insurers compete rather than collude,” Leahy said. “The American people deserve reform that serves their needs, not the special interests of insurance companies.  Ending this cozy exemption is another way to strengthen consumer choice through a competitive marketplace.”

Insurers deny the current law encourages anti-competitive behavior and counter that any effort to modify McCarran-Ferguson would be bad for both consumers and for the insurance industry. Blain Rethmeier, a spokesman for the American Insurance Association, said the act establishes the appropriate balance between regulation and anti-trust enforcement. 

"We believe that Senators Reid, Leahy, and Schumer’s efforts to repeal health insurers’ limited antitrust exemption under the McCarran-Ferguson Act will have unintended consequences not only for the health insurance industry, but will have a negative impact on the medical malpractice insurance sector as well," Rethmeier said in a statement. "If adopted, this amendment could create ambiguity over the ability of medical professional liability insurers to engage in certain activities that are subject to state insurance regulation.  Ironically, statutory uncertainty about the anti-trust status of those activities will bring years of litigation and discourage new companies from entering the medical malpractice insurance market - undercutting the primary purpose of federal anti-trust laws, which are designed to promote market competition free from government or private interference."

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