While legislative efforts aimed at repealing the McCarran-Ferguson Act exemption captured considerable attention over the last few months, slow but study progress advanced on legislation to create a federal insurance office.

On Dec. 2, the House Financial Services Committee approved H.R. 2609, “The Insurance Information Act of 2009,” by a unanimous voice vote. The bill, which has been characterized as a possible “first step” towards optional federal chartering of insurers — both by those that support that effort and those that oppose it — now advances to the full House. Introduced back in May by Representative Paul Kanjorski, the legislation would establish an Office of Insurance Information within the Department of the Treasury that would be empowered to: (1) collect, analyze and disseminate insurance data and information, and to issue reports regarding insurance issues; (2) coordinate federal efforts and establish policy on international insurance matters; (3) determine whether state insurance measures are inconsistent with such policies; (4) serve as a liaison between the federal government and the states regarding insurance matters; and (5) advise the Treasury Secretary on domestic and international insurance matters. Significantly, as expressly set forth in the bill, the Office would not have supervisory or regulatory authority over any insurer, and the bill would not preempt state laws applicable to insurers, including state antitrust laws.

Forwarded on to the full House, HR 2609 was added to the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (HR 4173), which was passed on Dec. 11. However, the Senate, preoccupied with the health care bill throughout the entire month of December, has not moved anywhere near as quickly on the legislation. The Senate financial reform bill is still working its way through the Senate Banking Committee. However, activity on this legislation is expected after Jan. 19, when Congress reconvenes. Stay tuned.