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Discriminatory Insurance

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Stop Life Insurance Discrimination Against Travelers

September 23rd 2007

Abraham Foxman Color cropped
Abraham H. Foxman

The U.S. House of Representatives finally has passed a bill to protect consumers from unfair life insurance discrimination on the basis of past or future foreign travel. This is a much needed and welcome development. For far too long, insurance companies have routinely denied coverage to individuals because of their travel plans.

This unfair practice has adversely impacted everyone from tourists to corporate executives to students studying abroad. Insurance companies typically ask questions on life insurance applications about past or future travel destinations. Those travelers listing countries appearing on the U.S. State Department’s advisory list – including Israel - have too often found themselves rejected for coverage.

We understand that the insurance industry relies on risk assessment to determine whether to provide coverage, but denials should only occur when bona fide statistical differences in risk or exposure have been substantiated.

The proposed federal legislation is fair to insurance companies, requiring a reasonable standard for risk assessment of “a good faith actuarial analysis” – and permitting other exceptions, such as a “serious health related condition” or “an ongoing military conflict.” Similar legislation has already passed in a number of state legislatures, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Washington.

According to the best analysis of current data, travel in Israel is not statistically more dangerous than travel in the United States. In 2002, Business Week put the number of homicides per 100,000 people in the U.S. at 17, compared with just 11 in Israel.

The Anti-Defamation League, which has led the fight to enact similar legislative and regulatory protection at the state level, coordinated a letter of support for the measure to House leaders from 16 American Jewish organizations.  We commend Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Barney Frank (D-MA) and Michael Capuano (D-MA) for their leadership in promoting passage of the fairness provisions.

It should be said that not all insurance companies are culpable. Some have made it explicitly clear that they do not discriminate on the basis of travel plans. One leading international insurance organization, the American International Group (AIG), recently assured ADL that it does provide coverage for travelers to Israel.

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Revision and Extention Act of 2007, H.R. 2761, is an important safeguard to counter unfair and discriminatory practices by large companies. The bill deserves strong bipartisan support when it reaches the Senate floor.
Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control” (Palgrave Macmillan).

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