House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) announcement that the House will pass legislation repealing health insurers’ exemption from federal anti-trust legislation, elicited a standing ovation this morning at the Democratic National Committee’s Winter Meeting. Language removing the exemption was originally part of the House health care bill and Pelosi hopes that passing the provision separately would recommit the party to health care and narrow the differences with the Senate bill, which did not include the repeal.
“It is time for us to end the unfair advantage insurance companies have over American families an that is why next week the House will act to repeal the special anti-trust exemption for health insurance companies,” Pelosi said.
The legislation will do little to lower costs as a stand alone measure. But combined with the competition created by comprehensive health care reform, removing the exemption would allow the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prevent insurers from engaging in the kind of deceptive and egregious conduct that has contributed to high health care costs.
In other words, the repeal is just the first step in restoring real competition to health insurance markets. Policy makers must pass real health care reform and do more to shift the FTC’s focus towards industries where there is the most consumer harm.