By: Amanda Stone, FellowPosted on October 20, 2009 Issues: Health Care & Reproductive Rights

by Amanda Stone, Volunteer, 
National Women's Law Center 

“Nope, we won’t take her.” This is what insurance companies in Florida said when asked whether they would provide insurance coverage to a hypothetical applicant who had survived rape. Let’s back up a few steps. First, who was asking the question? Second, why was the applicant’s history posed as a hypothetical? Third, what can we do to change this dire situation?

Chris Turner, a health insurance agent from Tampa Florida, and a rape survivor, was the person asking the question. Chris spoke of her survival story at the National Women’s Law Center launch of the “Being A Woman Is Not A Pre-Existing Condition” campaign early this morning. In November 2002, she was drugged and raped while on a business trip. She sought medical help from her physician, who put her on preventative anti-HIV medication, since there was no way of knowing whether the person who raped her used a condom. Following her assault, Chris was afraid to leave her house for some time. About a month after the assault, Chris gathered the courage to seek counseling to deal with her fears-counseling which continued for about a year. She took the steps she needed to take care of herself, and the steps she now encourages other rape survivors to take as a volunteer at a Florida organization called SOAR-Speaking Out About Rape. As a volunteer, she warns rape survivors about a harm which she faced-she tells them, “if you lose your insurance, you might not be able to get it back.” This is exactly what happened to Chris.

A few months following her rape, Chris needed to find new health insurance on the individual market. This brings us to our second question-why did Chris pose her story to insurance underwriters as the story of a hypothetical applicant? As an insurance agent, Chris knows how the system works: “if you’re rejected for coverage once it can put a black spot on your insurance record and keep you from getting health insurance in the future.” So, why did the insurance companies she consulted refuse to cover a hypothetical rape survivor? Because the hypothetical rape survivor had sought treatment for her rape! Her use of preventative anti-HIV medication and her attendance in much needed counseling—steps that were necessary to Chris’s health and well-being—became obstacles to her future health and well-being, as they were cited for reasons why insurance companies refused to insure her hypothetical applicant. In order to qualify for insurance coverage at all, her hypothetical applicant would have had to have tested negative for HIV for two to three years and have completed counseling for one to two years (depending on the specific insurance company and plan). If Chris, an insurance agent who knows the ins and outs of the insurance market, was unable to obtain health insurance following her assault, what chance do the rest of us have?

This brings us to our third question. What can we do to fix our flawed insurance market which penalizes us for using the insurance we have (if we are among those lucky enough to have health insurance at all)? You contact your state representatives and Demand Health Reform Now by clicking here! Working together, we must make sure that no other woman feels the sentiments that Chris Turner expressed this morning-“I was punished for doing the right thing to take care of myself and my livelihood.” Thank you for all of your continued support of the NWLC and for your support of health reform that works for women!

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