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Bill Would Make Health Insurance Liable for Antitrust Laws

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill repealing current antitrust legislation previously non-applicable for health insurers.

House Judiciary Commitee approved bill to repeal current antitrust legislation non-applicable for health insurers

Source: Thinkstock

- Proposed legislation supported by the American Hospital Association passed the House Judiciary Committee earlier that if approved by Congress make health insurance companies liable for anti-competitive business practices.

The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act (HR372) would make health payers liable to federal antitrust laws that protect consumers and competitors from unfair business practices

“It is the purpose of this Act to ensure that health insurance issuers are subject to the same antitrust and unfair trade practices laws that all businesses have had to comply with and to more effectively ensure that these issuers would be subject to Federal laws against price fixing, bid rigging, or market allocations to the detriment of competition and consumers,” reads the proposed bill.

The legislation sponsored by Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) would amend McCarran-Ferguson Act to remove the exemption from antitrust laws for “the business health insurance (including the business of dental insurance)” and allow private cases to be brought by victims of unfair trade practices such as “price fixing, bid rigging, or market allocations to the detriment of competition and consumers.”

“I’m extremely pleased to see the House Judiciary Committee support my efforts in taking the essential first step to broader healthcare reform,” Gosar said in a press release. “Popular cost-reducing reform priorities–such as selling insurance across state lines and developing diverse consumer-driven plans–are predicated on the robust competitive markets this bill will ensure. As a healthcare provider for more than 25 years, I understand first-hand the importance of a competitive and dynamic health insurance market.”

Healthcare associations including the American Dental Association, American Chiropractic Association, American Community Pharmacy Association, and American Optometric Association supported the legislature along with the AHA.

“Patients, doctors, and hospitals alike benefit when health insurers compete to provide a variety quality coverage options,” Gosar said. “I look forward to continue working with House leaders to ensure this bill is part of patient-centered, free market healthcare reforms.”

The bill is a new effort by Congress to stabilize the market influence of major insurers and to remove special protections. In a political climate where the Affordable Care Act is fiercely debated, the voice vote was a display of bipartisanship in addressing healthcare issues.

Including in the findings of the bill the proposition the federal government “should ensure that no industry obtains an unfair competitive advantage and that the playing field is equal,” nor should the House or Senate “play favorites with certain industries or special interest groups by exempting one group from the general application of the law.”

This is the latest in a line of policymaking and antitrust advocation from lawmakers and healthcare experts that warn of the implications in reducing health insurance competition.

In February, a federal judge from the Department of Justice struck down the Cigna-Anthem merger that garnered support from the AHA. The DC District Court released an opinion on their ruling, citing significant market ownership numbers that more likely than not would damage consumer freedoms in choosing healthcare options.

Throughout the previous year, opposition towards large healthcare mergers between Aetna-Humana and Cigna-Anthem grew as senators and the American Medical Association advocated for blocking the mergers. Rhetoric shared between both stakeholders implied the merger would strongly impair the health of the insurance market and consumer choices.

Opposition against private payer mergers got their way as Aetna-Humana terminated their multi-billion dollar merger deal. The merger between Cigna and Anthem experienced the same result where Cigna terminated the merger deal after significant opposition and the court ruling.

The ACA’s fate remains in the hands of future congressional sessions and debates between the two major political, but both sides have supported measures throughout 2016, and continuing into the current year, that strengthen consumer choice in healthcare coverage.

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