House Panel Will Consider Limited McCarran-Ferguson Repeal Today

NU Online News Service, March 20, 9:45 a.m. EST

Update, 3/21, 10:25 a.m.: The amendment was advanced to the House floor, but expressly excludes P&C. See today's story.

A House panel will consider today whether to clear for House-floor action later this week three amendments to healthcare legislation that would remove the McCarran-Ferguson Act antitrust exemption for health and medical-malpractice insurance.

A concerned industry has scheduled a conference call to discuss the proposed amendments, the second industry-wide issue dealing with the issue within a week.

Industry officials were not available to comment last night.

The House Rules Committee will consider the three amendments at a meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. today. A total of 20 amendments have been proposed.

The Rules panel is the gatekeeper for House-floor action, setting the rules for debate as well as determining which amendments to clear for floor action.

The legislation in question is H.R. 5, the “Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act.”

House-floor debate is scheduled for Thursday.

Efforts to add amendments ending the anti-trust exemption accorded to health-insurance providers under McCarran-Ferguson have raised concerns within the insurance industry.

The industry was anticipating that Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., would introduce an amendment repealing McCarran-Ferguson, but were unclear whether the repeal would apply to both medical-liability insurance and health insurance. 

Gosar did introduce his amendment Monday, but it covered only the “business of health insurance.”

However, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., also introduced amendments dealing with McCarran-Ferguson.

A Conyers-Waters amendment would end the antitrust exemption for medical-malpractice insurance, as well as provide the Federal Trade Commission authority to extend its powers to prevent “unfair methods of competition.”

The DeFazio amendment applies only to health insurance, but it would extend the power of the federal government to address “unfair methods of competition.”

The purpose of the larger bill to which the amendment is attached is to repeal a provision of the healthcare-reform law that creates the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which is a 15-member board designed to find ways to reduce growth in Medicare spending.

According to analysts at Washington Analysis, “At one point, there were almost 20 Democratic co-sponsors.”

But efforts to pay for the bill by imposing new limits on medical malpractice lawsuits have “eroded much of that support,” the analysts say.

In any case, the analysts say, “the opposition of Senate Democrats and President Obama ensures that it would not be signed into law regardless of the level of support in the House.”

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