Anti-Trust Exemption Survives Senate Health Care Debate

An update on an issue I wrote about last month (click here to see the original post from November 21): as part of the last minute maneuvering to round up 60 votes for health care reform legislation in the US Senate, the measure ending the health insurance and medical malpractice insurance companies’ exemption from anti-trust law was dropped from the bill.

The measure was originally proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and supported by Oregon’s Attorney General. It would have made the legal situation surrounding Oregon medical malpractice more favorable to patients by ending an exemption from anti-trust law that health insurance companies and medical malpractice insurance companies have enjoyed since the 1940s. The exemption makes it much harder for Oregonians who have been injured through medical malpractice to sue insurance companies or for families to sue in the event of a loved-one’s death.

Leahy, backed by a number of state attorneys general, proposed repeal of the exemption when the Senate began its debate on the health care reform bill last month. Retaining the exemption, however, was one of the conditions that Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) extracted from party leaders as a condition of his vote to end a Republican filibuster against the bill.

The measure would have made it easier for an Oregon medical malpractice lawyer to take on the large insurance companies. Under present law, the anti-trust exemption frees health insurers from many aspects of competitive pressure. That, in turn, makes them less willing to settle cases brought by victims of malpractice or insurance abuse. This patient-friendly measure is not entirely dead, however. It was contained in the version of the legislation passed by the House and may still survive the House-Senate conference that will craft a final bill after the Christmas break.

New York Times: Comparison of Senate, House health care bills

Washington Post: Deal on health bill is reached