The House of Representatives approved a bill to repeal the insurance industry's exemption from anti-trust laws today by an overwhelming margin of 406 to 19. All 253 Democrats present were joined by 153 Republicans in voting for H.R. 4626, the Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act. Representative Tom Latham of Iowa's fourth district voted with the majority, but Steve King disgraced the fifth district again by voting no (roll call here).
The anti-trust exemption has helped health insurers to avoid meaningful competition in most markets. Price-fixing is wonderful for corporate profits but doesn't help consumers obtain affordable insurance coverage. The anti-trust exemption is one reason insurers have been able to jack up premiums by far more than the rate that medical costs are increasing (and many times the overall rate of inflation). Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, which controls about 70 percent of the health insurance market in Iowa, recently announced rate hikes averaging 18 percent for about 80,000 individual policy-holders. Many of those policies (including my family's) will see premiums go up by 22 percent as of April 1.
How many of King's constituents will be forced to downgrade their coverage or drop their insurance because of this rate increase? How many Iowa businesses will suffer because their customers have less disposable income to spend on other goods and services? I've come to expect outrageous votes from King, but I'm curious to hear how he will justify his vote to keep consumers at the mercy of colluding insurance companies. I will update this post when I see an official statement from him.
A press release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee noted that King has received $53,835 in campaign contributions from the insurance industry. (That number appears to have come from Open Secrets site.) I posted the full text of the release after the jump.
The White House issued a statement yesterday supporting the Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act. It's unfortunate that the the Obama administration didn't fight to get this provision in the larger health care reform package, but passing it as a stand-alone bill would still be a step forward.
Quite a few Senate Republicans are on record claiming to support repealing the insurance industry's anti-trust exemption. Senate Majority Harry Reid should bring this bill to a vote as soon as possible. I suspect that if it reaches the floor, Senate Republicans will be as afraid to vote against it as the majority of House Republicans were today.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that prospects for this bill "are dim in the Senate." If that turns out to be correct, it's yet another reason rank and file Democrats should stop giving to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Meanwhile, David Dayen notes that before the anti-trust exemption bill passed, "there was also a motion to recommit, which would have essentially stopped the bill in its tracks, and 165 Republicans voted for that, along with 5 Democrats."
Iowa's own Tom Latham was among the 100-plus Republican cowards who voted for the procedural motion to stop the bill, then for the bill once the blocking attempt had failed.