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Antitrust Exemption Bill To Focus On Health Insurers

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WASHINGTON BUREAU — When an antitrust exemption bill reaches the House floor, it may apply only to health insurers, not to medical malpractice insurers.

Members of the House Rules Committee will meet Tuesday to consider H.R. 4626, the Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act bill.

The 2-page bill would prevent the “business of health insurance” from benefiting from the limited exemption from antitrust laws afforded insurers by the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

The bill would prohibit health insurers from sharing claims data and analyses of claims data.

The bill was drafted by Reps. Tom Perriello, D-Va. and Betsy Markey, D-Colo.

Earlier antitrust exemption bills, and an earlier version of H.R. 4626, have included medical malpractice insurance along with health insurance.

Since H.R. 4626 was unveiled Feb. 4, medical malpractice insurers have gone to great lengths to point out that medical malpractice insurance has no direct connection with medical insurance.

Health insurers have argued that an antitrust exemption repeal bill focusing on health insurance would be unfair but would have little effect on their operations, because, in practice, the current antitrust exemption gives them no ability to join together to set prices or use acquisitions to build monopolies.

In states where the number of health insurers is limited, the culprits usually are small market size and onerous regulations, insurers argue.

The property-casualty community has lobbied hard against the antitrust exemption repeal bills, arguing that they could do serious damage to insurers’ and risk retention groups’ ability to protect health care providers against medical liability risk.

“We’re grateful that medical liability has been removed from the bill,” says Joel Kopperud, a spokesman for the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, Washington. “The remaining exercise with regard to McCarran repeal for health plans is political, not substantive.”

Lawrence Smarr, president of the Physician Insurers Association of America, Rockville, Md., says his group is “very pleased,” but says the Senate could still put medical malpractice insurers back in the bill.

But Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other exemption repeal supporters appear to lack the votes needed to get a bill to the Senate floor, Smarr says.