GOP Congress Should Stop the Competitive Health Insurance Act

While the American people grow increasingly frustrated with the GOP Congress’ slow pace at repealing Obamacare, some Republicans are now pushing a new regulatory scheme on health insurance companies that comes straight from the playbook of Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark-up H.R. 372, the so-called Competitive Health Insurance Act of 2017 introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), to make crony GOP donors’ regulatory dream a reality.

The Gosar bill would throw conservative principles to the wayside by amending the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945 to bring health insurance companies under federal antitrust oversight.

Federalizing health insurance has been a long-sought liberal goal. In fact, a Democrat version of the Gosar bill passed in 2010 when Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House. At the time, Politico said the legislation was an “attack on insurers.” Sen. Chuck Schumer said lack of federal control was “one of the worst accidents of American history,” that “deserves a lot of the blame for the huge rise in premiums that has made health insurance so unaffordable.” Pelosi said the bill was necessary because insurance companies needed to be “reined in.”

So why have Republicans taken up the mantle of big government?

Why waste a minute on this legislation when Obamacare is still the law of the land?

Rep. Gosar claims that the antitrust exemption given by McCarran-Ferguson to the health insurance industry was intended to assist newly established insurance companies, and that this exemption is no longer needed. While the bill would allow for selling insurance over state lines, it is completely unnecessary to repeal McCarran-Ferguson in order for this to occur.

Democrats have long endorsed bringing health insurance under the antitrust umbrella as a means of stopping the “obscene” profits they say are enjoyed by the health insurance providers. Democrats believe that repealing this exemption would lower costs by subjecting insurance industry profits to antitrust scrutiny under McCarran-Ferguson.

Gosar and his liberal cohorts couldn’t be more wrong. The CBO has reviewed past versions of this legislation and concluded that exemptions such as those in the Gosar bill “would have no significant effect on the premiums that private insurers would charge for health insurance.” The CBO also predicted that such provisions might lead to additional litigation that could result in higher premiums.

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a markup on the Gosar legislation for this week. The GOP should push to stop these changes with all its might, because increasing the federal power to regulate health insurance would completely eliminate states’ rights in this area.

Thankfully, it appears that the big guns in the Republican Party are already onto Gosar’s statist games. When his bill originally passed under the Democratic controlled Congress, one of its chief opponents was Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Likewise, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a staunch supporter of the Tenth Amendment, should see that passing such legislation undermining states’ rights in health care policy clearly undermines what he so strongly stands for in regards to federalism and limiting the authority of the federal government.

Should the bill make it to the Senate, constitutional conservative Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) should take the lead in opposing this federal power-grab.

Last week at CPAC, Vice President Mike Pence called for the ability of consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines, comparable to what is already be done with auto insurance. This is a great idea that would increase consumer choice and lower premiums, but enacting legislation like the Gosar bill would make this nearly impossible.

Enacting legislation like the Gosar bill would likely create unintended consequences that will undermine the primary goals of the Trump-Pence administration. Eliminating the antitrust exemption is not only unnecessary, it is a corporatist giveaway that could lead to an anti-competitive oligarchy. 

There are many issues and concerns that should be carefully examined before enacting legislation to eliminate the exemption to McCarran-Ferguson, and Republicans should send these bills back to be more thoroughly examined in committee hearings before rushing to railroad something this destructive through Congress.