The McCarran-Fergusson Act currently exempts Health Insurance and Malpractice Insurance companies from antitrust laws. On September 17, 2009 Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act to partially repeal this antitrust exemption. Antitrust laws exist, among other things, to protect consumers from the anticompetitive effects of one company (or small group of companies) exercising monopoly (or oligopoly) power in its respective market. The Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act subjects Health Insurance and Malpractice Insurance Companies to potential suit for engaging in only the most egregious anticopetitive conduct: price fixing, bid rigging and market allocation.
Critics argue that the McCarran-Ferguson Act's exemption of Health Insurance and Malpractice Insurance Companies from antitrust laws does not significantly contribute to the sky-rocketing cost of health insurance or the lack of competition in underserved markets. Even if that is the case, no one can argue that price fixing, bid rigging or market allocation, where that conduct occurs, does not harm the consumer. There are obviously bigger fish to fry in the healthcare reform debate, but that does not mean that this small fish should not be fried. And it is looking more and more likely that repeal of the McCarran-Ferguson Act will be part of any final healthcare reform package.
The Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act represents an important part of the healthcare reform debate–it represets a commitment to protecting the rights of consumers who have been harmed by anticompetitive acts. For certain increased regulation and a public option are the most important measures Congress can enact for fixing our broken healthcare system. But the Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act is a reminder that guaranteeing injured consumers access to justice through the courts must be part of any healthcare reform package. This is more so the case, for when goverment is too timid to act, the courts are the consumers' only optino and so when consumers are denied access to the courts they are in turn denied access to justice. Congress: repeal the McCarran-Ferguson Act now!