In a rare appearance as a witness at a Senate hearing, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, told the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that it should repeal a 1945 law that granted the insurance industry limited exemption to national antitrust laws by allowing states to regulate insurers.
The law, the McCarran-Ferguson Act, is often cited by Mr. Reid and other critics of the health insurance industry as a reason why coverage can be so expensive for many people. They say the law allows insurers to monopolize markets and fix prices in ways that are usually illegal.
“Since 1945, the insurance industry has enjoyed exemption from federal antitrust laws because of the McCarran-Ferguson Act,” Mr. Reid said. “Pat McCarran, who was the senior senator from Nevada at the time, lent his name to this piece of legislation. Although we’re both Nevadans, I’m not sure what Pat McCarran had in mind when he pushed this bill. And if Pat were around today, he couldn’t be happy with the state of the insurance industry.”
“Providing an exemption for insurance companies to antitrust laws has been anticompetitive and damaging to the American economy,” Mr. Reid continued. “Health insurance premiums have continued to rise at a rapid rate, forcing businesses to cut back on health insurance coverage and forcing many families to choose between health insurance and basic necessities.”
He added: “Insurance companies have become so large they dominate entire regions of the country. They have become so powerful they block start-up businesses from entering the market, and they put smaller companies out of business. They have become so dominant that they dictate business practices. They are so influential that they exert tremendous influence over public policy.”
Harry Reid now looks ready to really go at the heart of the problem by taking out all the antitrust protections in McCarran-Ferguson that the HMOs use today as justification to price gouge consumers and trap us in overly expensive plans that do nothing. If he delivers, he'll deserve our kudos. And if he heeds Sen. Jay Rockefeller's advice in sticking with a good public option, Reid will be my hero. ;-)