House Democrats Get Small Victory on Health Care

Posted February 24, 2010 at 3:54pm

The House voted overwhelmingly to eliminate the health insurance industry’s 65-year antitrust exemption Wednesday, a victory for Democrats who have struggled to find their footing on the larger health care reform effort.

The 406-19 vote split the House Republican leadership: Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and a small band of conservatives voted to preserve the exemption, while Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and the bulk of the Republican Conference backed the measure.

Democrats unanimously supported the measure, with a parade of endangered freshmen coming to the floor to extol the measure as a common-sense way to increase competition and fight higher health insurance rates.

Republicans weren’t without their complaints. Most voted for a motion to recommit that would have preserved a narrower antitrust exemption for pooling of some insurance data. Some Democrats ripped that exemption as a giant loophole that would allow insurers the tools to continue colluding on prices and avoiding competition. Republican Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.) said the same provision was approved in committee and included in the House-passed health care reform bill.

And some Republicans who opposed the measure, including Rep. Scott Garrett (N.J.), warned it could raise premiums instead of lowering them because it would expose insurance companies to the costs of antitrust lawsuits.

But Democrats ripped the GOP as lapdogs for the insurance industry.

At one point, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) prompted multiple objections from GOP Members. At first, Weiner said the Republican Party was a “wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.” He then withdrew that after Republicans objected, but amped up his comments on his second try.

“Make no mistake, every Republican I have ever met in my entire life is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry,” Weiner ripped.
Weiner withdrew that as well after Republicans objected again.