Monday, October 26, 2009

Health insurers and baseball: a parting of the ways?

Since 1945, the insurance industry and baseball have had one thing in common: each enjoys an exemption from the federal antitrust laws.

Now, if Democrats get their way, that exemption may be coming to an end--at least for health insurance issuers. Last week the House Judiciary Committee approved a measure that would strip health insurance issuers of the protections of the McCarran-Ferguson Act. This 1945 law grants nearly exclusive jurisdiction over the regulation of the business of insurance to the states. Shielded by McCarran-Ferguson, insurance companies over the years have worked together to develop a series of model laws (the NAIC Model Acts) that have been used by most states as a guide to establish relatively uniform insurance laws, according to Wolters Kluwer's 403(b) Answer Book (click here to order).

H.R. 3596 carves out an exception of its own, for the "information gathering and rate setting activities" of any State insurance commissioner.

House Democrats have signaled their intention to try to add the proposal as an amendment to the version of health care reform moving through the House. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) plans a similar strategy in the Senate.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) hailed the measure as a means to promote "real competition" in the health insurance markets. Maybe so, although some reports indicate that the Democrats' sudden "trust-busting" zeal may actually be nothing more than payback for recent attempts by insurance industry lobbyists to stall President Obama's reform initiative. Congress' own version of hardball, in other words.


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