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Repeal antitrust exemption, Senate panel told


WASHINGTON—States are unable "to properly regulate" the insurance industry, Mississippi's attorney general told a Senate committee during a hearing Wednesday.

Insurers have tried to intimidate state governments, and should be subject to federal regulation, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

"Take away their antitrust exemption and license them at the federal level," said Mr. Hood, who has criticized insurers for their claims-handling practices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Insurers should be stripped of the limited exemption from federal antitrust laws that they have under the McCarran-Ferguson Act, agreed Robert Hunter, director-insurance for the Washington-based Consumer Federation of America.

Mr. Hunter also called on the committee to allow the Federal Trade Commission to examine insurers' allegedly unfair claims practices. "Consumer groups do not care who regulates insurance," Mr. Hunter said. They simply want "excellent" regulation, whether at the state or the federal level.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who presided over the hearing, noted that insurance trade groups had been invited to testify. However, none accepted the invitation, in part, because of scheduling conflicts and "some felt this might be an unfriendly venue for them—which is unfortunate," he said.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., called post-Katrina insurer behavior "outrageous" as well as "arrogant and mean-spirited." Sen. Lott, who is cosponsoring legislation that would repeal the McCarran-Ferguson exemption, added that insurers "may have a surprise coming."