Obama Takes Aims at Insurance Industry's Antitrust Exemption

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , October 19, 2009

In his weekly address on Saturday, President Obama aimed sharp criticism at the health insurance industry over recent actions related to health reform—and implied he may push for legislation now pending on Capitol Hill to dissolve the industry's 60-year-old antitrust exemption.

In his remarks, Obama thanked a variety of groups for support of the Senate Finance Committee's bill, the last healthcare reform measure pending approval by a congressional panel. He specifically cited the work of a "broad and growing coalition of doctors and nurses, workers and businesses, hospitals and even drug companies—folks who represent different parties and perspectives."

However, "there are still those who would try to kill reform at any cost," said the president, referring to efforts by the health insurance industry to challenge healthcare reform with a study that said insurance costs would rapidly increase under the Finance Committee plan.

Obama even offered another study—one from the Business Roundtable—as counter to the findings from the health insurance industry. Their report said that annual healthcare costs for employers will rise 166% over the next decade, from $10,743 per employee today to $28,530 by 2019.

"This is the unsustainable path we're on, and it's the path the insurers want to keep us on. In fact, the insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking open their massive war chest to marshal their forces for one last fight to save the status quo," said President Obama, referring to recent studies and advertisement campaigns by the insurance industry in several states challenging changes to the Medicare Advantage program.

Obama went on to say that the insurance industry "is making this last ditch effort to stop reform" as they're "earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exception from our antitrust laws, a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing."

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) testified to repeal health insurance and medical malpractice insurance companies' antitrust exemption, which is part of the McCarran Ferguson Act.

When asked about that statement on the ABC show "This Week" on Sunday, David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, said that is would be it is Congress's call what to do about the exemption.

"Congress is . . . reviewing that. He (President Obama) said it's appropriate that they review that . . . We'll see what Congress does," Axelrod said. "One of the problems we have is we have a healthcare system now that functions very well for the insurance industry, but not well for the customers."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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