President Barack Obama urged Congress on Tuesday to strip health insurers of their decades-old exemption from federal antitrust laws — hardening his stand against the industry as he tries to revive his stalled healthcare overhaul.
The White House announced Obama's support for a House bill that would repeal the industry's antitrust exemption, saying that would foster a more competitive marketplace that benefits consumers. The announcement follows Obama's call for new federal rate-setting powers that would give the Health and Human Services department the power to deny excessive increases in health insurance premiums.
"Removing this exemption will allow appropriate enforcement and examination of potential policies that might prove uncompetitve, or might stifle competition," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Obama has scheduled a healthcare summit with congressional leaders of both parties for Thursday, in a bid to rescue Democratic healthcare plans passed by both chambers that stalled after Democrats lost their 60-seat majority in the Senate. On Monday, he unveiled a proposal that sought to bridge the differences between the House and Senate bills.
Health insurance premiums have been climbing even as general inflation remains low. A spate of double-digit increases for people who buy their own policies has infuriated consumers, and the president is trying to tap the outrage to build support for his comprehensive remake.
The House could vote later this week on the measure, which has strong Democratic support. However, prospects in the Senate are unclear. Industry analysts say losing the exemption would not have a major effect on the way health insurance companies do business these days.
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