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The Insurance Industry's Heartless Logic: Getting Beaten by Your Husband Is an Excuse to Deny Coverage

In eight states and the District of Columbia, being the victim of domestic violence is considered a pre-existing condition by insurance companies.
 
 
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With the White House zeroing in on the insurance-industry practice of discriminating against clients based on pre-existing conditions, administration allies are calling attention to how broadly insurers interpret the term to maximize profits.

It turns out that in eight states, plus the District of Columbia, getting beaten up by your spouse is a pre-existing condition.

Under the cold logic of the insurance industry, it makes perfect sense: If you are in a marriage with someone who has beaten you in the past, you're more likely to get beaten again than the average person and are therefore more expensive to insure.

In human terms, it's a second punishment for a victim of domestic violence.

In 2006, Democrats tried to end the practice. An amendment introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), now a member of leadership, split the Health Education Labor & Pensions Committee 10-10. The tie meant that the measure failed.

All ten no votes were Republicans, including Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), a member of the "Gang of Six" on the Finance Committee who are hashing out a bipartisan bill. A spokesman for Enzi didn't immediately return a call from Huffington Post.

At the time, Enzi defended his vote by saying that such regulations could increase the price of insurance and make it out of reach for more people. "If you have no insurance, it doesn't matter what services are mandated by the state," he said, according to a CQ Today item from March 15th, 2006.

Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for an insurance industry trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), said that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has proposed ending the discrimination. "The NAIC has a model on this that we strongly supported. That model bans the use of a person's status as a victim of domestic violence in making a decision on coverage," he said.

During the last health care reform push, in 1993 and 1994, the industry similarly promised to end discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.

Murray pushed to include the domestic violence concern in this year's comprehensive health care bill. "Senator Murray continues to believe that victims of domestic violence should not be punished for the crimes of their abusers. That is why she worked to include language in the Senate HELP Committee's health insurance reform bill that would ban this discriminatory and harmful insurance company practice," said spokesman Eli Zupnick.

In 1994, then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), now a member of Senate leadership, had his staff survey 16 insurance companies. He found that eight would not write health, life or disability policies for women who have been abused. In 1995, the Boston Globe found that Nationwide, Allstate, State Farm, Aetna, Metropolitan Life, The Equitable Companies, First Colony Life, The Prudential and the Principal Financial Group had all either canceled or denied coverage to women who'd been beaten.

The Service Employees International Union asked members to write letters to Congress regarding the exclusion and have quickly generated hundreds, says an SEIU spokeswoman.

The relevant provision:

SEC. 2706. PROHIBITING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST INDIVIDUAL PARTICIPANTS AND BENEFICIARIES BASED ON HEALTH STATUS.

'(a) IN GENERAL.--A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage may not establish rules for eligibility (including continued eligibility) of any individual to enroll under the terms of the plan or coverage based on any of the following health status-related factors in relation to the individual or a dependent of the individual:

(1) Health status.

(2) Medical condition (including both physical and mental illnesses).

 
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