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State Efforts to Eliminate Health Insurance Discrimination Against Domestic Violence Survivors

By: Amanda Stone, FellowPosted on November 4, 2009 Issues: Health Care & Reproductive Rights

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

Imagine this: you are in a relationship with a partner who takes out his or her aggression on you. Everyday, you must walk on eggshells to try to avoid conflict with your partner and the sometimes physical assaults that follow. Now imagine that you gather the strength to leave your abusive relationship. You seek a divorce. As a result, you will no longer be covered on your partner’s health insurance. “No problem,” you think. “I will get my own insurance and start my life over.” And then you realize that your state or jurisdiction does not prevent insurance companies from denying you a new policy based on your status as a domestic violence survivor. You may be denied health insurance based on the past assaults you faced at the hands of your partner. You are re-victimized. Is this a problem? Yes. In a handful of states and in the District of Columbia, there are no laws on the books to explicitly prevent insurance companies from denying individuals insurance policies or reimbursement for specific services based on their status as a victim or survivor of domestic violence.

However, there is some good news! Five of the 8 jurisdictions that do not explicitly prohibit health insurance discrimination based on domestic violence have made efforts to address this problem: 

  • In October 2009, the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking issued a bulletin warning insurers not to use domestic violence as a factor when issuing health insurance policies.
  • In September 2009, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chancy called upon the state legislature to take action banning discrimination against survivors of domestic violence.

  • In North Carolina, Insurance Commissioner, Wayne Goodwin, stated that he will ask the legislature to clarify current state law and that he will implement new administrative rules to prohibit insurers from discriminating against domestic violence survivors in the individual market. North Carolina state law already prohibits such discrimination in group plans.
  • In North Dakota, Insurance Commissioner, Adam Hamm and Governor John Hoeven are currently working to change the present policy in their state.
  • Finally, in Oklahoma, state Senator Jim Wilson intends to introduce SB 1251, which would prohibit any insurance plan issued or renewed on or after November 1, 2010, from considering domestic abuse as a pre-existing condition.
  • It is also noteworthy that, In April 2009, Arkansas passed a law expressly prohibiting health insurance companies from using a woman’s status as a domestic violence to deny coverage. 

We applaud state efforts to eliminate domestic violence from being counted as a pre-existing condition to deny women much needed health insurance. We are also pleased to report that domestic violence is, in fact specifically identified in the current health care reform bills as something that cannot be considered a pre-existing condition. Contact your representatives by clicking here in order to demand health care reform that works for women!