Guest view: Montana dentists applaud Daines, health-insurance bill

During the 2020 election, U.S. Senator Daines was hammered by detractors as beholden to insurance companies. Nothing could be further from the truth, as evidenced by a landmark insurance reform bill that passed last week, with Senator Daines as its foremost champion.

While all eyes were watching the pandemic stimulus bill vote in the U.S. Senate on Monday, there was another significant bill that passed with little fanfare. The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act (CHIRA) will remove antitrust exemptions from medical and dental insurance companies, and that change is expected to have a dramatic effect on insurance premiums in the coming years.

The intent of the McCarran Ferguson Act of 1945 was to return insurance regulation to the states, but ended up with insurance companies effectively operating under a shield that exempts them from federal antitrust lawsuits. The American Dental Association has been pursuing a full repeal of the act for more than 20 years. Unable to do so, their legislation was scaled back to target only medical and dental insurance.

After CHIRA first passed in 2017 in the U.S. House of Representatives on a bipartisan vote of 416-7, not one single U.S. Senator would sponsor the bill in the U.S. Senate. Frustrated but undeterred, the American Dental Association (ADA) asked the Montana Dental Association (MDA) to enlist U.S. Senator Steve Daines as the primary sponsor. In November of 2018, Senator Daines and key staff met with leaders of ADA and MDA in his office on Capitol Hill. After subsequent discussions, he agreed to champion the bill and introduced it in December of 2018 with U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as the Democratic cosponsor. It never got to a floor vote, so they reintroduced it in on February 19, 2019. Throughout 2019 and 2020, Senator Daines and his legislative staff worked diligently to add more and more cosponsors to the bill, making it a truly bipartisan effort. It passed with unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate in the early morning hours of December 22, 2020 and is now on its way to President Trump’s desk.

The bipartisan CHIRA bill amends the McCarran-Ferguson Act to restore the application of federal antitrust laws to the health insurance industry, but does not otherwise interfere with or impact the authority of state authorities to regulate health insurance provided under the act. This bill will help address instances of artificially higher premiums, unfair insurance restrictions, and harmful policy exclusions.

The 600 licensed dentists in Montana appreciate the work of Senator Daines to directly engage with these powerful insurance companies. He tackled a problem that had been seeking a true champion for more than 20 years. Senator Daines did what others could not or would not do and he is an invaluable asset to those of us who live and work in Montana.