Bills would protect rights of domestic abuse victims Firms could not deny health, life insurance

February 16, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF

Advocates for women are pushing bills in the General Assembly that would prohibit companies from denying health or life insurance coverage to victims of domestic violence.

The measures also would forbid insurers from refusing to pay claims or adding surcharges based on evidence of abuse.

Although there are no documented examples of this happening in Maryland, companies in neighboring states have used domestic violence as a reason for denying coverage, according to federal and state government surveys.

"We saw this happening in other states and we thought this was ridiculous," said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a Montgomery County Democrat and a sponsor of legislation in the Senate. "We don't want to see someone victimized."

Ms. Forehand's bill received a warm reception yesterday at a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.

Insurance companies, the state insurance administration and physicians all endorsed the Senate measure, although insurers proposed several modifications.

No one spoke against the proposal. The House of Delegates is expected to vote on a similar measure today, and proponents predict passage.

In 1994, a congressional survey found that about half of the nation's leading insurance companies routinely denied coverage for domestic violence victims, said Del. Carolyn Krysiak, a sponsor of the House legislation.

For instance, a company refused a life insurance policy to a Delaware woman in 1994 based on medical records documenting three assaults by her husband, according to the Women's Law Project, an advocacy organization in Philadelphia.

A year earlier, a company denied a Pennsylvania resident life, health and mortgage disability insurance for similar reasons, the project has reported.

Such practices encourage women to conceal the causes of their injuries for fear of losing insurance coverage, said Cynthia L. Golomb, legislative specialist for the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.

And that in turn undermines efforts to expose the social problem to the public, Ms. Golomb said.

Despite the friendly reception for the measures in Annapolis, insurance companies have asked for some changes. The House bill was amended at their request to make clear that they can continue to use medical conditions, regardless of cause, in determining eligibility, rates and underwriting classification.

For instance, an abused woman who suffered severe kidney damage could be denied coverage if the company routinely rejected people with kidney damage.

Ms. Krysiak said, however, that insurers could not simply use a series of injuries as the basis for denying coverage. "That's what we're trying to avoid," the Baltimore Democrat said.

An official with a Baltimore County insurance company also asked for an exception so that he could deny life insurance policies to people who beat their spouses or children.

The official, Gary C. Harriger, vice president of Baltimore Life in Owings Mills, cited a case in which a man took out an insurance policy on his children and then hired a hit man to kill them.

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