The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed legislation that would allow federal antitrust enforcement against insurers.
Similar versions of the bill have been considered and passed in the House over the last decade, though none have become law. Odds appear slim this year as well. The bill would fall under the purview of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will soon be preoccupied with a blockbuster Supreme Court confirmation battle.
The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act would amend the 1945 McCarran-Ferguson Act, which gave insurers federal immunity from antitrust enforcement and delegated primary authority to regulate consolidation in the insurance industry.
The bill’s passage comes as insurers have been perceived to have profited from decreased healthcare utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic, though some insurers have benefited more than others. The House Energy & Commerce Committee launched an investigation into insurers’ policies and profits, and an industry insider familiar with lobbying efforts said there is some anti-insurer sentiment on the Hill.
The 2016 GOP platform also proposed doing away with insurers’ federal antitrust enforcement immunity.
A bipartisan Senate companion bill has been introduced, but Senate aides and insurance industry insiders said the legislation is unlikely to pass as a standalone bill. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is locked in a competitive re-election race and will soon focus on the Supreme Court confirmation fight. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Graham tied for support with his Democratic opponent among likely voters.
Insurers staunchly oppose the legislation.
“Repeal of McCarran-Ferguson in general, or the antitrust exemption in particular, would do nothing to increase competition in health insurance markets; is not necessary to allow sales across state lines; and would harm millions of Americans by reducing competition, choice, and innovation,” America’s Health Insurance Plans Senior Vice President Kristine Grow said.
Even if the bill is unlikely to advance in the Senate, there’s a chance it could be slipped into a larger bill moving this year. Congress has to pass a government funding package in September to avoid a shutdown, and is expected to set another Dec. 11 deadline. The bill was not included in House Democrats’ most recent government funding legislation.