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Bill will end monopoly protection for insurance companies

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By Congressman Tom Perriello

For 65 years, the insurance industry has been one of the only sectors other than Major League Baseball to be exempted from America’s anti-monopoly laws. Under the 1945 McCarran-Ferguson Act, insurance companies have long been shielded from federal prosecution for bid rigging, price fixing, and dividing up market territories. When monopolies are legalized, consumers, competition, and quality all suffer, as premiums skyrocket for middle class families. This is the kind of law that only makes sense in Washington because of who writes the checks; for decades, the insurance lobby has held tightly to this exemption. 

So last Friday, I unveiled a bill that would end monopoly protections and restore competition among health and medical malpractice insurance companies. The bill is just two pages long and costs the government nothing while saving millions for consumers and government programs.

Congresswoman Betsy Markey and I co-authored this legislation to ensure that patients, doctors, and taxpayers no longer suffer from the flagrant price gouging that is all too common today. Due in part to the lack of competition, health insurance premiums have more than doubled since 2000. That means America’s working families are paying twice as much as they were a decade ago. Moreover, the health insurance industry has had over 400 mergers in the last 14 years, leaving consumers with few choices and less competition. This is simply unfair and un-American. It is time for politicians in Washington from both sides of the aisle to stop bending to the will of insurance lobbyists and start standing up for the interests of American families.  

I have heard from thousands of constituents across the 5th District and know that patients and doctors desperately need relief from the soaring costs of health and medical malpractice insurance. However, many constituents also raised concerns over the length and complexity of health care legislation. In an effort to produce legislation that is clear, concise, and easy to understand, our bill is just one page, double-sided. Simply stated, it will require health and medical malpractice insurance companies to play by the same rules as other industries and every small business in our own district. This commonsense bill will lead to increased competition among insurers and lower premiums for all Americans. The rising prices that hospitals and doctors face for medical malpractice insurance drain resources that could otherwise be put towards improving patient care. This bill is a huge step toward restoring confidence to consumers, assuring all Americans that health and medical malpractice insurance companies are not colluding on the prices they charge and the choices they offer.

While Rep. Markey and I voted differently on the initial health care reform bill, we both agree that, particularly in this tough economic climate, it is crucial to give the middle class a real choice on the price and quality of their coverage. Health insurance companies should not enjoy special treatment while hard-working Virginians sacrifice to pay artificially inflated premiums. It has long been our common priority to repeal the health care industry’s exemption from the basic rules of competition that govern virtually every other American industry. And we are not alone in this fight. Many of our Republican colleagues have previously supported similar measures to protect consumers and promote competition in the health and medical malpractice insurance industries. Therefore, by repealing McCarran-Ferguson, we will be taking an important bipartisan step toward providing quality and affordable health care to all Americans.

Please feel free to contact me to share your concerns and ideas. You may call 1-888-4-TOM4US (1-888-486-6487); write to 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; or visit www.perriello.house.gov to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter.