Battered - And Often Denied Insurance Several Firms Deny Coverage. One Compared Staying With A Batterer To Refusing To Take Medicine.

Posted: May 13, 1994

WASHINGTON — Grace was married for two years before her husband first hit her. During an argument, he slapped her, knocked her into the furniture and left her sore and bruised.

A few months later, she found that being beaten also left her uninsurable in the eyes of some of the nation's largest insurance companies.

"Grace," a Carlisle, Pa., woman who does not want to disclose her identity, is one many battered women who are finding their injuries a sort of scarlet letter to insurance companies.

Her story and others like it were told yesterday by Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime and

criminal justice.

Schumer said eight out of 16 insurance companies surveyed by his subcommittee refuse health and life coverage to battered women. He estimated that thousands of women are denied coverage, a trend he called an "outrage."

One company has likened battered women who stay with the batterer to diabetics who won't take their insulin. Another suggested that battered women are like skydivers who voluntarily subject themselves to risk of great injury. Two said they refuse coverage to protect battered women from being murdered.

"It's bad enough that women are being battered by their loved ones, but it's even more shocking to discover that they are being battered again by insurance companies," Schumer said. "Domestic violence is not a pre-existing condition . . . it's a crime. Insurance companies should not be able to discriminate against crime victims."

The National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund will sue several insurers unless negotiations can stop the practice, Sally Goldfarb, the group's senior attorney, said yesterday.

"To single out abused women and to deny them coverage is blatant discrimination," Goldfarb said.

State Farm Insurance Cos., one of the nation's largest, was one of the three that refused to cover Grace.

Company spokeswoman K.C. Eynatten acknowledged in a telephone interview that State Farm will not insure battered women - or men - as long as they continue to stay with the batterer. She likened it to a diabetic not taking insulin.

"If we were to ignore the fact that there could be other hospitalizations, that wouldn't be a prudent business decision," Eynatten said.

State Farm will insure a woman a year after she leaves the batterer. It started insuring Grace several weeks ago, Eynatten said.

The First Colony Life Insurance Co. also refuses coverage for battered women, in part because it "might provide an incentive to murder," company attorney David McMahon wrote to Schumer's panel.

First Colony refused coverage for Grace and her husband because the beating had been recent.

"We could not tell whether the domestic violence would continue or stop . . . whether someone might die as an accidental outcome of a beating or as an intentional act of murder," McMahon's letter said.

First Colony does not have a general policy against insuring battered women, he wrote, but considers cases individually. It does not "treat past injury from spousal abuse or the threat of future risk from spousal abuse any differently from any other cause of injury or risk," he said.

Eynatten denied that the practice was sex discrimination, saying, "If a man were battered, we would refuse him coverage. Unfortunately, most of the victims are women."

Goldfarb of the legal defense fund said that 16 states prohibit insurance discrimination against battered women but that federal legislation would be needed to "ban this practice across the board."

Schumer said that he preferred to negotiate and would meet next week with State Farm executives. Eynatten said the company welcomed the chance to try to find a solution.

Schumer would identify only three of the eight companies that he said refuse coverage: State Farm, First Colony and Prudential.

Prudential does not have a policy of excluding battered women from coverage, spokesman Robert de Fillippo said in a telephone interview. He said the only criterion that would disqualify someone would be the person's physical condition.

Schumer's aides said Prudential was included because of the company's written response to an inquiry about Grace's case. A person's physical condition dictates coverage "from the standpoint of its likely impact on the applicant's future life expectancy. If, in our view, the underlying condition rendered an applicant uninsurable, we would not offer coverage," Prudential wrote.

Schumer said the eight companies that said they do insure battered women are Allstate, Blue Cross of New York and Pennsylvania, Cigna, CNA, Mutual of Omaha, New York Life, The Travelers and Wausau.

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