Tooth Talk discusses antitrust reform

Mr. Slover

Washington — The repeal of the McCarran-Ferguson antitrust exemption for health insurance companies was the subject of the May 17 Tooth Talk podcast.

Formally known as the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act, the bill became law on Jan. 13. It is aimed at improving transparency and competition in the health, dental and vision insurance marketplaces. The ADA hopes it will lead the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to investigate alleged anticompetitive practices and activities of health care insurers.

During the one-hour podcast, Tooth Talk hosts Sarah Milligan and Peter Aiello sat down with George Slover, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports, who previously worked in the Justice Dept’s Antitrust Division and at the House Judiciary Committee, to discuss the role dentists played in the passing the legislation. Ms. Milligan is the director of political affairs for the American Dental Political Action Committee, and Mr. Aiello is the senior manager of grassroots education & digital advocacy for ADPAC.

Mr. Slover, who has worked on antitrust laws to enhance consumer choices in the marketplace for three decades, explained the impacts of these laws on consumers and dentists. He also goes into great detail on the history of the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which was established in 1945, and how insurance companies lobbied for their exemption from these laws in the first place and how it has affected the industry ever since.

So how did this repeal happen, and why does it matter?

“What happened really was that there was a convergence of forces that came together,” Mr. Slover said. “I think it was a way for both Republicans and Democrats to come together and to recognize again, the importance of the antitrust laws is for creating a competitive marketplace and that it's good for business as well as for consumers, and that the health insurance industry was one place that was lacking in that.”

He explains how in 2010 the bill passed the House but couldn’t gain traction in the Senate until later in the decade, when he credited ADA advocacy with being instrumental in bringing the issue to the forefront.

“I think without ADA involvement, frankly, it would still be an issue rather than an accomplishment. So, that was just tremendous,” he said. “And it's something that I've been following since I was in working in Congress, working in the Justice Department, working back in Congress, working at Consumer Reports. We were just thrilled to see this happen after more than 35 years of engagement.”

As for what’s on the horizon, Mr. Slover said he expects the change in the law will lead to creating more openings and choices in the marketplace.

“I think the environment is going to change and improve in the short to midterm,” he said. “And then, what actually happens is going to depend on the free marketplace, with possibilities that could not happen before because the health insurance industry could obstruct them.”

To hear more of Mr. Slover’s conversation with the ADA on the repeal of the McCarran-Ferguson antitrust exemption for health insurance companies, visit the Tooth Talk website and listen to the episode in its entirety.

The ADA has also developed an FAQ for ADA dentists with questions about how this law will affect dentists and dental practices. Download the one-page summary and the ADA FAQ here.

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