THE BLOG
04/27/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

House Votes Overwhelmingly to Abolish Insurance Industry Anti-Trust Exemption: Republicans Weep

At noon yesterday the House voted on H Res 1098 which allowed for consideration of the bill to end the exception from anti-trust laws that health insurance companies have been enjoying. After bitter protests from the Republican obstructionists, the rule passed 238-181, every single Republican voting no, along with 10 reactionary Blue Dogs (Bobby Bright, Travis Childers, Kathy Dahlkemper, Indiana Senate candidate Brad Ellsworth, Gabby Giffords, Baron Hill, Walt Minnick, Harry Mitchell, Scott Murphy, and Heath Shuler). The Republicans then tried killing the bill with a motion to recommit which failed 170-249, three Republicans-- Cao, Jones and McClintock-- figuring out which way the train was rolling and jumping out of the way. Then when the bill itself came up for a vote, Boehner's opposition fell on deaf ears even from his own caucus. Only 19 of the most reactionary haters of American families voted against the bill which passed-- after all that obstructionism-- 406-19.

So who were the 19? All far right-wing Republicans of course, the worst of the worst, many of them deeply in the pockets of the Insurance Industry like Boehner himself ($939,276), as well as Scott Garrett ($342,519), Tom Price ($259,111), and, of course Wisconsin paragon of corruption Paul Ryan ($531,571). The DCCC, recognizing Ryan's role in trying to round up opposition to the reform measure, pounced immediately after the vote, sending out a press release to all media outlets in Milwaukee, Janesville, Kenosha, Racine, Oak Creek and Muskego:

Today Rep. Paul Ryan decided to let big health insurance companies continue using anti-competitive practices to deny affordable health care to families and small businesses. Ryan's vote speaks volumes about his willingness to fight harder for the insurance company special interests in Washington than the hardworking folks struggling to afford health care back home.    
 
 
"Representative Paul Ryan's vote on whether to outlaw anti-competitive practices by big health insurance companies tells Wisconsin voters what he values more, protecting insurance company profits over helping his constituents afford health care," said Ryan Rudominer, National Press Secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Considering that Ryan has received $531,571 from the insurance industry, a vote to let them keep manipulating the market to drive up their profits while families suffer is all the more outrageous."

Although written by the leadership, the anti-trust law (H.R. 4626) was given to two vulnerable Democrats to sponsor, Tom Periello (who was great; watch him on the House floor) and Betsy Markey. There were 72 co-sponsors, all Democrats, of course. I noticed that one of the Blue Dogs voting against the rule yesterday was Scott Murphy, a co-sponsor. If passed in the House of Lords, unlikely, the Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act would amend the McCarran-Ferguson Act to provide that "(1) nothing in that Act shall modify, impair, or supersede the operation of any of the antitrust laws with respect to the business of health insurance; and (2) Federal Trade Commission Act prohibitions against using unfair methods of competition shall apply to the business of health insurance without regard to whether such business is carried on for profit."

All of the Blue America-endorsed candidates-- and all of the candidates we're considering for endorsement-- are strongly in favor of this step. Marcy Winograd (D-CA) summed it up well:

I support federal measures to end the anti-trust exemption for health insurance companies, though I see this as an interim step en route to single-payer. If health insurance companies were subject to anti-trust laws it might be difficult for companies like Blue Cross to boost their rates 39% while routinely denying health coverage to those in need. Ultimately, the answer is not to encourage the proliferation of more health insurance companies but to find employment for health insurance workers in a more productive sector-- to replace the health insurance industry with something else altogether.

Bill Hedrick is running for Congress in hard-pressed Riverside County, southeast of Marcy's L.A. district. He's opposing one of the worst of the Republican lockstep obstructionists, Ken Calvert, who voted with buddies at Big Insurance yesterday on the two preliminary votes. Bill told us he strongly supports "ending the anti-trust exemption for health insurers. Americans deserve to know who is fighting to lower premium costs for working families-- and who is fighting to preserve industry privilege. It's past time to end the monopoly enjoyed by huge corporate insurers and restore an old American value-- competition." 

Billy Kennedy is also running against another sociopathic Republican who automatically opposes anything and everything that is meant to help ordinary working families, North Carolina's somewhat deranged Virginia Foxx. Billy gave us a strong statement on this bill that Foxx opposed but didn't have the guts to vote against at the end (although, of course, voted twice to kill it):

The insurance companies spend most of their waking hours trying to figure out how to avoid paying for people's medical expenses so they can boost their profit margins. They get away with massive premium price increases and benefits cutting because they have virtually no competition. This is because they enjoy an anti-trust exemption which allows them to engage in price fixing and collusive activity.

The result? By 2008, according to the American Medical Association, a single health insurer controlled 30% or more of the health insurance market in 90% of the metropolitan markets in the country. And, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, health premiums have gone up by 131% for family coverage from 1999 to 2009.

If we are serious about promoting competition among insurance companies to hold down costs, the repeal of the anti-trust exemption is a no-brainer.

Natalie Mosher is running for the House from a Detroit suburban district where the incumbent, Thaddeus McCotter, fancies himself a "moderate," but yesterday-- as on all days-- he voted with the obstructionists, radical right maniacs and fanatics like Foxx and Calvert. Natalie made the point that "Health care reform must include repeal of the McCarran-Ferguson Act. State government oversight of the health care industry is no longer effective. We need to end the current dominance by a handful of providers, who make record breaking profits as they increase premiums at skyrocketing rates at the same time they increase their denial of claims and coverage, to working-class Americans. It's time for the federal government to set a regulatory floor to prevent the worst practices and invite the states to establish additional protections. It's unconscionable that a Member of Congress would be against this pro-consumer legislation." Her perspective and McCotter's are at great variance and voters in Michigan should have no trouble in seeing who's on their side and who's on Big Insurance's side. McCotter has taken $168,598 in thinly veiled bribes from the Insurance Industry to sell out his own constituents.

President Obama had asked Congress to pass the bill a day earlier saying "The repeal of the antitrust exemption in the McCarran-Ferguson Act as it applies to the health insurance industry would give American families and businesses, big and small, more control over their own health care choices by promoting greater insurance competition. The repeal also will outlaw existing, anti-competitive health insurance practices like price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation that drive up costs for all Americans. Health insurance reform should be built on a strong commitment to competition in all health care markets, including health insurance. This bill will benefit the American health care consumer by ensuring that competition has a prominent role in reforming health insurance markets throughout the Nation." I like the way Speaker Pelosi opened the debate yesterday: "House of Representatives, Mr. Chairman, is called the people's house. Today, we live up to that name. By passing legislation that increases leverage for the people by changing the playing field, a playing field that has been dominated by the insurance industry for over 65 years and now it's the people's turn. The insurance companies will now be playing on the people's field." Republicans sat in their seats making faces and noises. This video is from a news conference Speaker Pelosi did yesterday with Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Wendell Potter, one of the nation's top healthcare experts.