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Calls for antitrust change get louder

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Calls for antitrust change get louder

WASHINGTON—The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee will push ahead with his effort to strip insurers of the limited immunity from federal antitrust laws that they currently enjoy under the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

During a brief March 7 hearing regarding the McCarran-Ferguson Act, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the "potential for insurance industry abuse became clear on the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina."

"The bottom line is, right now we do not know what anti-competitive acts insurers may be engaging in because the antitrust immunity insurers enjoy acts as a curtain that hides their activity from federal antitrust authorities," said Sen. Leahy, who is among sponsors of the Insurance Industry Competition Act that would repeal the limited antitrust exemption.

Witnesses, including Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., told the committee of what they regarded as unfair insurer practices following Hurricane Katrina. Sen. Lott is cosponsoring the antitrust exemption repeal bill.

But Marc Racicot, president of the Washington-based American Insurance Assn., told the committee that repealing the exemption would replace the current regulatory system with "an uncertain system that that adds another layer of federal antitrust enforcement on top of the state regulatory and antitrust structure."

The result would harm consumers, Mr. Racicot said.

Some observers have said that the loss of the limited exemption could have a broad impact, reducing insurers' ability to exchange information and potentially preclude them from moving into new lines (BI, Feb. 26).