The National Association of Insurance Commissioners implored Congress today to consider insurers’ antitrust exemption as “separate and distinct” from the optional federal charter issue.

But the American Council of Life Insurers later said it opposed the NAIC position, arguing that the 2 issues should be addressed in tandem.

The NAIC’s position was voiced today by Susan Voss, Iowa insurance commissioner, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She appeared on a panel of consumer advocates and another on the implications of repealing the insurance industry’s exemption from antitrust provisions of the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

In her testimony, Voss said the NAIC opposed coupling a proposed repeal of McCarran-Ferguson with creation of an optional federal charter.

“While some of the industry’s largest players advocate for deregulation through a so-called federal charter and would encourage coupling the 2 issues, the NAIC supports reconsideration of the limited federal antitrust exemption as a separate and distinct policy matter,” she said

But in a statement issued after the hearing, Jack Dolan, an ACLI spokesman, said that “repealing McCarran-Ferguson in isolation, without regard to comprehensive regulatory reform in the form of an optional federal charter, would make an already inefficient regulatory system far worse.”

The ACLI “supports optional federal chartering because the current state regulatory system is cumbersome, inconsistent, unnecessarily complicated and unable to adapt quickly to changes in the marketplace,” he added.

But the movement from exclusive state regulation to an optional federal system must be accomplished in an orderly way, Dolan said. “Repeal of McCarran-Ferguson outside the context of optional federal chartering would have the opposite effect.”

The hearing was convened by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman and ranking minority member of the Judiciary panel.

They are among the sponsors of S. 618, the Insurance Industry Competition Act of 2007. The bill seeks to subject the industry to antitrust scrutiny by both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

It would repeal not only the industry’s antitrust exemption but also a provision of the FTC Act passed in 1980 that bars the agency from preparing reports and regulating the industry without specific authorization of Congress.