Md. delegate’s bill to hold life insurers accountable

A bill by Delegate Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41), at the microphone, would bar life insurance companies from discriminating based on a traveler’s destination.Photo by Melissa Gerr
A bill by Delegate Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41), at the microphone, would bar life insurance companies from discriminating based on a traveler’s destination.
Photo by Melissa Gerr

A two-year quest by Maryland state Delegate Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) to pass a law that would crack down on life insurance companies that attempt to limit coverage based on an individual’s travel destination is making progress in the General Assembly.

House Bill 803 would prevent insurers from charging different rates or refusing coverage to anyone based on future travel plans. It passed the House on March 4 and went to the Senate for consideration.

Rosenberg worked on similar legislation in 2005 that prevented insurance companies from discriminating against clients based on prior travel. The issue of future travel came up when a constituent, Ken Birnbaum, an agent with New York Life, approached Rosenberg about difficulties he was having in securing coverage for a client who planned to travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Rosenberg first introduced his bill in the 2015 session. It died after receiving an unfavorable report in the Senate Health and Government Operations Committee.

This year, Rosenberg remodeled it, based on similar legislation adopted 10 years ago in Colorado.

“I put the bill in last year and it did not pass, and then around the same time decided to model the bill after the one that had passed in Colorado,” said the 33-year House veteran. “I was violating one of my own principles of bill drafting, which is don’t reinvent the wheel.”

Rosenberg said that this session he sold the bill to House members by explaining that discrimination from an insurance company against a client based on travel plans to a country deemed “unsafe,” must be backed up by a travel advisory from the State Department and include data that illustrates the degree of danger visitors to that country face.

It is unclear how widespread the practice is. But in 1996, Israel-bound clients of Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. were denied coverage. Then-New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver co-sponsored legislation similar to Rosenberg’s. Met Life soon reversed its policy.

In 2004, then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) introduced a bill that would have declared any discrimination by insurance companies based on travel a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act. At the time, several major life insurance companies were denying coverage to Israel-bound clients. The bill died in committee.

Birnbaum said in an interview that he believes insurers have a bias against travel to Israel. Rosenberg did not accuse insurance companies of singling out Israel.

“My recollection is that there was testimony at last year’s bill hearing that a similar action had been taken regarding travel to another country,” he said.

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