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From Antitrust Law Daily, March 22, 2017

House approves bill ending antitrust exemption for health insurers

By Jeffrey May, J.D.

In the run up to tomorrow’s showdown on the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148), the House of Representatives today passed proposed legislation to repeal the antitrust exemption for the business of health insurance. The "Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2017" (H.R. 372) is considered to be part of the package of measures aimed at repealing and replacing Obamacare.

The measure, which has bipartisan support, would amend the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945 to restore the application of federal antitrust laws to the business of health insurance. Similar measures have passed the House before, but have failed to become law.

House passage came one day after the Trump Administration expressed support for the measure. On March 21, the White House issued a statement of administration policy, clarifying that President Donald J. Trump would sign the bill if it were passed in its current form.

The McCarran-Ferguson Act was enacted in response to a 1944 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that insurance transactions constituted "commerce" among the several states and were, therefore, subject to federal antitrust laws. The Act created a partial antitrust exemption for the business of insurance that is regulated by state law. The current bill would only repeal the Act to the extent it applies to the business of health insurance.

H.R. 372 was introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.). The bill was the subject of a House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee hearing on February 16, at which Gosar testified that "ending this special-interest exemption is the essential first step to broader healthcare reform."

The House overwhelmingly approved the bill. The vote was 416 to 7.

Gosar’s reaction. "Today, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House joined me in taking a historic step to begin rebuilding America’s healthcare market," Gosar said in response to the bill’s passage." As a dentist for over 25 years, I know first-hand that restoring the application of federal antitrust laws to the business of health insurance is the key to unlocking greater competition in the marketplace. Making health insurance companies compete in a free-market will result in huge benefits for hospitals, doctors and most importantly, patients. History has always shown us that when we put the patient first and demand that health insurance companies compete for their business, premiums go down while quality goes up. I’m proud to have led this effort in the House and call on Senate leaders to take up this bipartisan legislation in a timely matter."

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