ANNAPOLIS – Although Maryland insurance companies say they don’t discriminate against victims of domestic violence, a pair of state legislators wants to make sure.
At a hearing before the House Economic Matters Committee Wednesday, Del. Marilyn R. Goldwater, D-Montgomery Co., said a bill she has co-sponsored to prevent insurance companies from raising rates or denying policies to victims of domestic violence is a good preventative.
In Pennsylvania, 28 percent of companies responding to a government survey last year said they take domestic violence into account when issuing or renewing a policy, according to Jeanne MacLeod of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.
Of these companies, 75 percent do business in Maryland, said Alex Thomas, a staff attorney for the Maryland Insurance Administration.
At a meeting last June, four of the largest insurance groups in the state assured the administration they don’t ask any questions about domestic violence, Thomas said in an interview.
That doesn’t satisfy Goldwater or Del. Carolyn J. Krysiak, D-Baltimore, the bill’s other cosponsor.
Krysiak said a national survey showed that about half of all insurance companies discriminate on the basis of domestic violence. Nonetheless, Krysiak admitted, there are no documented cases of such discrimination in Maryland.
Thomas said no complaints have been made to the Insurance Administration, but that any complaint would be thoroughly investigated.
“If it’s happening in the state, we really want to know about it,” Thomas said.
Like several insurance company representatives who testified, Thomas said the bill should be amended to let insurers take a victim’s medical condition into account, so long as the reason for that condition is ignored.
Marta Harting, a spokesperson for State Farm, went further, saying insurance companies should be prohibited from even asking about domestic violence.
Harting said the issue received national attention after a State Farm agent in Pennsylvania rejected an applicant for life, health and mortgage insurance on the basis of her status as a victim of domestic violence.
Harting said that was an “isolated decision,” and that State Farm has since banned any questions about domestic violence. Even if it finds out an applicant or client has been battered, State Farm will not take it into account, Harting said.
Lee Vinocur, an emergency room physician at two Baltimore hospitals who testified on behalf of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said she supported the bill.
If a victim thinks she might lose her insurance, or have to pay a higher rate, she might not tell her physician the truth about the reason for her injuries, Vinocur said.
Vinocur said domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States, and that victims should not be penalized twice. “For the victim, it’s not always as simple as packing up and moving out,” she said. -30-