Domestic Violence is a "pre-existing condition?" Really?

BlogHer Original Post

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is trying to make sure that the health reform legislation under consideration in Congress will finally ban a practice that is legal in eight states: denying health insurance to victims of domestic violence on the grounds that it constitutes a pre-existing condition. It's something that she has been trying to get done for years, as she explained on CNN today:


When I first heard about this, I was as incredulous as Murray was, and I checked it out as well. Here is what I learned.

First, according the White-House sponsored site confirms that it is legal in nine states to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence. The SEIU blog names names: Idaho, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming and the District of Columbia.

Next, University of Dayton Law school student Linda Noll researched the insurance companies' rationale: The basic argument is that insurance companies don't want to insure domestic violence victims because they are more likely to need it:

From the health insurance companies’ perspective, the domestic violence victim has a potentially increased use of medical facilities because of the assaults from their abuser. The insurance companies view the increased use as the increased cost in providing for that individual which would be an increased cost to the consumer or a reduction in coverage as they do with many other conditions.

The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim reported last month that several big insurance companies have promised to stop denying coverage to domestic violence victims in the past, only to renege:

n 1994, then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), now a member of Senate leadership, had his staff survey 16 insurance companies. He found that eight would not write health, life or disability policies for women who have been abused. In 1995, the Boston Globefound that Nationwide, Allstate, State Farm, Aetna, Metropolitan Life, The Equitable Companies, First Colony Life, The Prudential and the Principal Financial Group had all either canceled or denied coverage to women who'd been beaten.

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Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon suspects that health care practitioners might avoid screening for possible domestic violence for fear that noting the questions in a patient's medical records might endanger her coverage. Of course, failing to identify and help abuse victims can endanger their lives.  

Back to Senator Murray, who has actually been trying to get a law passed on this issue since 2001. On October 1, she introduced the Security and Financial Empowerment Act (SAFE) with cosponsors Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) . A companion bill was introduced on the House side last January. In addition to the insurance protections, the bill's other benefits include ensuring that someone who loses a job because of the need to escape an abuser can still collect unemployment.

The SEIU urges voters to write their Congressional representatives urging them to ban the practice of denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions, including domestic violence. They provide a handy online form as well.

Do you know of anyone who has been denied insurance coverage for this reason? What did they do? Do you support Murray's effort?


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