Swalm takes last swipe at gender equality insurance bill

DENVER– The House easily passed a bill this morning to end health-insurance gender rating over the objections of Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, who argued today as he has throughout the session, that the bill would unfairly raise rates for men.

spencer swalm

Sponsor Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, said that the bill would simply “level the playing field for men and women,” a position backed by the research that went into writing the bill and accepted by the majority of Colorado lawmakers, even in the heated partisan climate that has marked the legislative session this year.

Swalm, who is an insurance broker, sounded a note like a last man on the barricades.

“Members let me tell you why this is not the time to equalize the situation by raising premiums for young men, particularly because of the recession. This fall there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that talked about the jobless gender gap…” Men are suffering higher rates of unemployment than are women, he said. “So here we are raising rates for men when they have been so disproportionately impacted by this economic downturn!”

Schafer said that the National Council of State Legislatures reported that where similar bills had passed in other states there had been no significant increase on premiums for men.

“In fact men stepped up and said we should pay our fair share,” Schafer said. “Through the life span of men and women the premiums equal out. So the bills purpose is to level the playing field. Many male constituents have called me and said this is the right thing to do. The insurance industry has said this is the right thing to do… I do not believe that there will be any unreasonable rate increase on men.”

HB 1008 prohibits insurers in the state from discriminating on the basis of gender in the individual insurance market, where rates can vary dramatically between men and women.

The bill has come a long way. Last summer, as a state health insurance task force examined the issue of gender discrimination, the insurance industry lobbied against any proposed bill that would attack the gender-based ratings differences. State Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, told the Colorado Independent that lobbyists “met with lawmakers and were able to convince a handful that the rate discrimination was justified and that its removal would drive up men’s rates.”

The Health Care Task Force, she said, then heard from national experts debunking both myths. Schafer concurred.

“At our hearings, the insurance industry provided no justifiable data or reason for their charging women from 9 percent to 50 percent more for the same policy. Even men who smoke are charged less than women who do not smoke. Just being female is considered a pre-existing condition.”

Today, members of the legislature told personal stories in favor of the bill. Rep. Ed Vigil, D-San Louis Valley, said that, based on her name alone, an insurance company had registered his daughter as male. She called to correct the record. Her name may be unisex but she was a woman, she said. Her rate was doubled.

“You should support this bill because the proof is there,” Vigil said.

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