For many years Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has been a leader in the effort to repeal the McCarran-Ferguson Act’s antitrust exemption for insurers. Thus, it was perhaps not at all surprising that, only days after the 112th Congress began, Senator Leahy announced his intention once again to push for McCarran repeal. In a January 11th speech laying out his legislative agenda this year for the Senate Judiciary Committee (which he chairs), Senator Leahy stated that he “hopes Congress will finally repeal the health insurance industry’s exemption from the antitrust laws.” He continued: “There is no place in our health insurance market for anticompetitive abuses, and repealing the exemption is an important step toward bringing competition to the health insurance market.”
Senator Leahy followed up his speech with a letter to President Obama and Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, which was co-signed by 18 other senators, urging that any agreement to modify the new health care law include a repeal of McCarran for health insurers. So far, at least, Senator Leahy’s efforts have failed to gain much traction in this new Congress, as the principal focus of attention has been on budget issues and the threat of a government shutdown. Nevertheless, given the wide support for McCarran repeal in the last Congress (with the House passing McCarran repeal legislation by an overwhelming majority) it is likely that – particularly with Senator Leahy’s strong support -- we will see a renewed attempt to repeal McCarran this Congress. Stay tuned.