House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said legislation that strips lawmakers of their special exemption from antitrust laws would be introduced next week, though its passage in the Senate is less than certain.
The move to fast-track the measure hints at a broader strategy by House leaders to pass components of a much lengthier, more comprehensive health reform bill now stalled on both sides of the Capitol Dome.
Pelosi made the announcement on a conference call with progressive bloggers, but relayed details to reporters through a spokesman.
“There's a lot of support within the caucus to hold the insurance companies accountable,” said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Democrats' leadership team, said the bill would force insurance companies to compete for business—a move that potentially could lower costs.
“This is a provision that will take away the special deal health insurance companies have today whereby they're exempt from the antitrust laws, which means they can engage in price fixing and other anti-competitive behavior with impunity,” he said.
A provision to revoke the exemption was included in the House-passed reform package, though the Senate's version left it out. The House could pass several more smaller-scale bills, Elshami said, even while the Senate could prove cold to the idea.
Emerging from a meeting with Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sounded a cautious note.
“We'll be happy to take a look at it,” he said about the bill. “But the Senate, we've made no decisions on healthcare—how we're going to proceed.”