WASHINGTON BUREAU – Members of the House have voted 406-19 to pass H.R. 4626, the Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act bill.

The bill would repeal the antitrust exemption afforded the business of health insurance – but not the business of medical malpractice insurance – by the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

Some observers say they are skeptical about whether antitrust repeal has enough support in the Senate for a antitrust exemption repeal bill to pass there.

H.R. 4626 was introduced by Reps. Thomas Perriello, D-Va. and Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo.

The House took up the bill in an effort to salvage components of its major health system change bill, and the bill had the support of the Obama administration.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Rules Committee, managed the bill on the House floor on behalf of House Democratic leaders.

“We’ve heard too many complaints about the health insurance industry engaging in price fixing, bid rigging, and other anti-consumer and anti-competitive practices,” Slaughter said. “This industry has enjoyed a big giveaway for far too long, and it’s about time that it plays by the same rules as everyone else.”

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, says the bill “is likely to do more harm than good,” by hampering data-sharing efforts that could help patients.

But the major health insurers are large companies that can draw on huge pools of claims data of their own, and insurance company executives have said they believe antitrust repeal would have little practical effect on their operations.

Antitrust laws and other laws and regulations already prohibit health insurers from forming monopolies and colluding to set prices, insurer executives and AHIP representatives say.

Republican lawmakers blasted a decision to remove a provision contained in an earlier version of the bill that would have let health insurers share historical data.

Because that provision is not in the current it is “entirely possible that as currently drafted,” the bill “will have precisely the opposite effect of its stated intention,” Rep. Daniel Lungren, R-Calif., said during floor debate.

Lungren, a former California attorney general, noted that the historical data provision was originally proposed in the 1990s in connection with an earlier effort to repeal McCarran-Ferguson by former Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Texas. Brooks was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Insurers need information about claims to price their products, Lungren said.

“And here is the rub–it is the small companies which depend on the availability of information the most,” Lungren said. “Smaller companies simply do not have a sufficiently large volume of information to price their products efficiently. It is for this reason that it is of the utmost importance that insurers have the ability to share historical data.”

If small insurers cannot get the data they need to set prices, “we might see the ironic outcome of further concentration in the insurance industry,” Lungren said.

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For coverage of the House Rules Committee vote against the historical data sharing amendment, please see Panel Rejects Antitrust Bill Amendment.