WASHINGTON BUREAU — A consumer group is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to start an antitrust probe of health insurers.
The group, Health Care for America Now, Washington, says in a report that 13 years of “extreme” health insurance industry consolidation has resulted in a market failure.
A small number of large companies are using their concentrated power to control premium levels, benefit packages, and provider payments in the markets they dominate, the group says.
“As a result, health insurance premiums have skyrocketed, going up more than 87% — on average – over the past 6 years,” the group concludes.
HCAN is pushing for inclusion of a new public health insurance option in health reform efforts.
Susan Pisano, a vice president at America’s Health Insurance Plans, says antitrust probers have maintained heavy scrutiny of the health care industry for decades.
The probers “have concluded that health plans operate in a highly-competitive market,” Pisano says. “They also concluded that consumers have choice among various kinds of coverage and among various insurers.”
Moreover, she says, “the purpose of antitrust laws is to protect consumers and not to advantage providers nor to advance a political agenda.”
HCAN says in its study that health insurers have completed more than 400 mergers in the past 13 years, and that a small number of insurers now dominate local markets.
Figures from the American Medical Association, Chicago, show that 94% of the health insurance markets in the United States are now highly concentrated, and insurers are thriving in the anti-competitive marketplace, “raking in enormous profits and paying out huge CEO salaries,” HCAN says.