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Providing For Consideration Of H.R. 4626, Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Thank you to the gentleman from California (Mr. LUNGREN). I will not give you all of the answers I am sure you are looking for, and I feel confident that, when this bill is debated on the floor, there will be many more questions raised from the members of the committee who sat through this debate.

I can only say, as a member of the Rules Committee, I, too, sat there while this conversation was going on. I am not an expert in this particular area. I am very pleased, and I want to talk a little bit about how pleased I am that we are taking on this exemption of the insurance companies.

I did hear people say, and the reason that I voted the way I did yesterday, is that I heard that the Lungren safe harbor amendment was a loophole in the McCarran repeal. I heard that consumer groups had said that this was anti-consumer. A safe harbor isn't needed because the bill does not prohibit information sharing. On the other hand, putting in a safe harbor statute would automatically immunize the insurance companies, and it would not permit a case-by-case review of companies that go too far.

Honestly, I am not in a position to argue this amendment, but I know it will be discussed when the bill is discussed.

I want to go back to the original issue, because that is why I am standing here today.

Mr. Speaker, I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 4626, the Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act.

I have seen firsthand how health insurance companies have used their exemption from antitrust regulation to profit off the backs of hardworking individuals and small business owners in my home State of Maine. If you want to buy an individual insurance policy in my State, it doesn't seem like you have much choice. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine became so big and swallowed up so much of the market that, at one point, nearly 8 out of 10 people buying an individual policy ended up with them as their insurance provider.

How did Anthem reward them? With skyrocketing rate increases that are impossible to keep up with.

In Maine, Anthem's rates have gone up 250 percent in the last decade--10 times the rate of inflation. Last year, they asked for a 19 percent rate increase. People in Maine were shocked. Anthem, apparently, was just getting started. This year, Anthem is demanding a 23 percent increase in their rates.

Mr. Speaker, the only thing rising as fast as the premiums big insurance companies charge is their profit margin. Last year, profits for the five biggest insurance companies rose by 56 percent over the year before. I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone else in this economy who got a 56 percent rate increase last year or a raise.

Anthem has turned a deaf ear to the concerns of Mainers who are struggling to pay premiums. Last year, when they asked for a 19 percent increase, our insurance superintendent, Mila Kofman, denied the request, allowing them 11 percent instead, which seemed reasonable. So what did Anthem do? They immediately turned around and sued the State of Maine. As our attorney general, Janet Mill, said, ``In this economy, it's hard to believe the greed of it.''

Also last year, I learned that Anthem had suddenly and quietly changed a policy that allowed them to deny claims at our State's VA hospital. The VA staff caught the switch, but very quickly, the hospital was out $500,000. You might ask yourself, How can a company get away with that? How can a company get away with denying claims for veterans and with demanding outrageous rate increases while pocketing record profits?

The answer is pretty simple. They don't have any real competition.

I say enough is enough, Mr. Speaker. Anthem clearly demonstrated that their monopoly on the individual insurance market in Maine leaves consumers with little choice but to either pay escalating premiums or to go without coverage. You will hear this more than once today, and we already did from the Chair. Unbelievably, health insurance companies and Major League Baseball are the only two entities exempt from antitrust laws, and it is high time we gave the insurance companies a little competition.

I know it's not what Anthem wants. It is why they have lobbied so hard against health care reform that would lower health care costs overall. It's what the American people want. The American people believe in fair play, a level playing field, and in free and open competition, not a system where one massive corporation can run roughshod over consumers.

We need to put families before insurance companies and people before profits. H.R. 4626 is an essential step in achieving meaningful health reform and in giving Americans choice. I urge my colleagues to join me in voting ``yes'' on this rule, this unamended rule, and ``yes'' on the underlying bill.

I reserve the balance of my time, Mr. Speaker.

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And I will just be brief. I want to have plenty of time for my colleagues who want to talk more about the substance of this issue. But I would say, I felt there was plenty of time for the process in the Rules Committee. There was a lively conversation with some of my colleagues and your colleagues, bipartisan, back and forth. But I disagreed. I did not think that we needed to change this exemption about data in the rule, in this particular amendment. I am happy to allow the Justice Department to have a decision about this later.

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Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague on the other side of the aisle.

We've heard a variety of reasons and excuses today about why this bill shouldn't pass, whether it was about the committee process or a loophole, debating it back and forth. But the fact is we cannot have meaningful health care reform in this country until we finally decide to put an end to insurance company greed and insurance company monopolies. We must stop companies like Anthem who demand rate increases that are many times the rate of inflation, which puts health care insurance out of reach for many, many Americans.

I urge a ``yes'' vote on the previous question and on the rule.

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