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On Wednesday I headed over to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick to take part in a discussion with doctors, hospital administrators, and consumer groups about repealing the McCarran-Ferguson Act – a law giving health insurers anti-trust exemptions.  

My position has always been that insurance companies shouldn’t be left to their own rules - nor their own devices. For the past 65 years, the health insurance industry has been operating with special immunity from anti-trust laws. While this exemption may contribute to their profit margins, it’s the patients and doctors who are ultimately forced to pay the price. Enough is enough. In Congress, I’m proud to say that Democrats will soon introduce the Health Insurance Industry Anti-Trust Enforcement Act – to finally ban price fixing, bid rigging and market collusion, once and for all.

Right now, insurance companies continue to rake in record profits, while consumer costs are skyrocketing. Most states remain dominated by a small number of competing insurance firms.  Here in New Jersey, just two companies control 60% of the market.  Even when states pass laws preventing the exemption, most insurance companies still simply continue to ignore them by citing federal law.  We must stop this double-standard and give patients a fair choice.  By creating more competition, we will lower prices and increase access to  medical treatments that are often denied because they are not profitable for insurance companies to cover.

Healthcare should be about putting people first, not profits.  We must promote a fair playing field in the insurance industry and make certain they operate under the same rules as every other sector.  The sentiment I heard from leading voices in the medical profession was that we need to shine a light on the practices used to set rates.  Currently, federal regulators do not have the power to  investigate anti-competitive tactics used by the industry to control the market, leaving patients and consumers vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of insurance companies and big business.

As President Obama’s health care summit with Congressional leaders approaches, we must not forget the reasons why we began the process of reforming health care in the first place. We must give a voice to those patients being denied much-needed care due to an obsession with profits on the part of fat cat insurance executives.

The profit driven mindset has severe consequences, such as private practitioners refusing to provide general care procedures like vaccinations just because insurance companies don’t cover them.  This is unacceptable and needs to stop. I will continue to work with leaders and medical experts to give patients the care they need and deserve.

Fair competition in the marketplace will keep the industry honest. Even more importantly, it will cut down on medical costs for patients and their families. Such reform all begins with breaking up the insurance monopolies by repealing McCarran-Ferguson.

Originally posted to Congressman Frank Pallone on Fri Feb 19, 2010 at 06:36 AM PST.

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