Braille Monitor February 1985
by James Gashel
Alan Clive works for the United States government as a manager in the Equal Opportunity Office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C. He spends his working hours trying to assure that other employees of his agency receive fair treatment in job assignments, working conditions, opportunities for promotion, and such like. Who would ever think that Alan Clive would, himself, become the subject of discrimination? But Alan Clive is blind. So discrimination should not be unexpected.
Recently he called me to explain a problem he was having in obtaining disability income insurance. He asked if there were any companies I knew of willing to sell a disability plan to a blind person. Somehow I gathered the question was not just academic. I told him I knew of several companies who would sell disability protection to the blind and that the trend in this direction was positive. However, some companies still discriminate. Then he responded: "Well, let me tell you about discrimination."
The story he told me was almost unbelievable. Here we are in the middle of the decade of the 1980's. Still a blind federal employee is unable to purchase a simple insurance policy to protect himself and his family if he becomes unable to work due to disability. What is the hazard? Alan Clive is already blind. So, that is one less disability the insurance company has to worry about. There is no evidence that life is more dangerous for Alan as a blind person than for his sighted colleagues. He is not more subject to conditions of flood, famine, war, or civil strife than the rest of us. Alan Clive is just an average guy doing the average job in the average government office.
But in all his trying, Alan Clive was apparently unable to obtain disability protection from any of the normal carriers who write this kind of coverage for federal employees. Finally in desperation he agreed to take out a policy with Lloyds' of London. Lloyds' of London has a hallmark in the industry for insuring the uninsurable. If you own a missile site and want to protect your investment should the Russians go mad one day and push the button, Lloyds' of London will be glad to help you. Lloyds' also covered those satellites that went astray recently and recouped its losses by contracting with the space shuttle to have them brought back to earth. Can you imagine the Lincoln National Insurance Company covering a missile site or satellites that go astray? Well, Lloyds' of London will do it. And Lloyds' will also write insurance on blind people--presumably whether or not they, too, go astray.
I told Alan that we would help him obtain the insurance he sought and that specifically we would bring the matter to the attention of both state and federal authorities. He was aware of our struggle to prohibit discrimination in insurance, but he did not know the exact status of the law or whether his rights could be protected. I further told Alan that we would file a complaint with the Maryland State Insurance Department, in view of the fact that an agent for the Connecticut Mutual Insurance Company (doing business in Maryland) had recently declined to take an application based on Alan's blindness.
I had reason to believe that the insurance commissioner for the State of Maryland, Edward Muhl, would (see Braille Monitor, December, 1984) respond quickly. It so happens that Commissioner Muhl has been chairing a task force of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) specifically designed to address the problems of insurance discrimination identified by the National Federation of the Blind. That task force was established by formal action of NAIC in September, 1984. It was a direct response to our efforts on behalf of federal legislation designed to combat insurance discrimination. NAIC wants the federal government to keep hands off the insurance industry in favor of state regulation.
We would be content with this, as long as the states enforce the law. So we proceeded to seek enforcement of the laws of the state of Maryland. Under date of November 9, 1984, the Federation filed a formal complaint with the Maryland State Insurance Department. It brought the swift and vigorous action we expected. Under date of November 28, 1984, an insurance investigator from the state wrote to Connecticut Mutual's home office to obtain a report on their compliance with the Maryland State Insurance Code. Then under date of November 30, 1984, Alan Clive wrote to say that his application for insurance from Connecticut Mutual had been taken the previous day. He seemed surprised to think that our efforts would bring such swift results. But these are the benefits of organizing. This is the why of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is the pertinent correspondence:
November 9, 1984
The Honorable Edward J. Muhl
State of Maryland
You may consider this a formal complaint of discrimination. The attached correspondence from Alan Clive of Silver Spring, Maryland indicates that the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company is in violation of Section 223 of Article 48A, Maryland Annotated Code, 1979 replaced volume.
The facts are as follows: The Connecticut Mutual Insurance Company sells a disability income plan to persons who are federal employees. Alan Clive is a federal employee. Mr. Clive wishes to purchase disability coverage from Connecticut Mutual. However, he was advised by a representative of that company (Mr. Murray Brill) that blind federal employes could not purchase the coverage in question. According to Mr. Clive, Mr. Brill's office is located in Bethesda, Maryland.
I am requesting that your department conduct a prompt investigation of this matter. I am further requesting that you require the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company to comply with Section 2 23 of Article 48A of the Maryland Annotated Code. Please advise Mr. Clive and this office of the steps you are taking to achieve a prompt resolution and of the results of your efforts.
Director of Governmental Affairs
National Federation of the Blind
Silver Spring, Maryland
November 7, 1984
Dear Mr. Gashel:
This letter concerns a possible instance of discrimination on the basis of blindness in the sale of insurance. As background, I am a federal employee (a manager in the Equal Opportunity Office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C.) and am totally blind. In 1983 I began looking for disability insurance, since federal employees do not receive such coverage until they have been in government service for five years, and at the time, I had been employed less than a year. My search was handled by a friend and insurance agent in Massachusetts, where I had lived until early 1983. He reported contacting more than a dozen companies. Most said they did not sell disability policies to federal employees because of the government's own disability program. A few said they would not sell to me because I was blind. I finally secured a policy in late 1983 through Lloyds' of London. For $720 per year, I will be given $2,000 per month for a three-year period following onset of disability. I could obtain a policy that ran no more than five years, and I had to specify a 90day waiting period to lower the premium to its current level.
When Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company announced a federal employees disability policy this year, I was very interested, hoping to find a cheaper and more comprehensive policy. On October 31, 1984, I called the CML office in Bethesda, Maryland, and spoke to Mr. Murray Brill, the agent. Mr. Brill quickly informed me that blindness was an exclusion and he could not sell me a policy. He read from a long list of exclusions, of which blindness was but one of many. I then called the Maryland State Insurance Commission. Unfortunately, I do not know who I spoke to, but the person informed me that Connecticut Mutual Life was within its rights to deny me coverage. Both Mr. Brill and the State Insurance Commission representative said that Lloyds' was accustomed to insuring almost any risk, but that if an insurer wished to refuse me coverage, it could, and I had no recourse.
Is this true? I know there is a law in Massachusetts against discrimination in life insurance sales on the ground of blindness. Is this the case in Maryland, and does the discrimination ban reach to disability insurance as well? Needless to say, I'd be most interested in your answer to these questions.
November 28, 1984
Mr. Dennis Mullane
Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company
Re: File No. 15155-08-11-84
Dear Mr. Mullane:
Please find enclosed a letter of complaint forwarded to this office by Mr. James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind.
It appears that Mr. Alan Clive, a potential applicant for a disablity policy, was denied at the Agency level. The reason for denial, according to Mr. Murray Brill, is that blindness is one of the underwriting declination factors, according to his agency handbook of underwriting guidelines.
If this is the case, it is a direct violation of Section 223 (b)(3) and 234(b) of the Annotated Code of Maryland, which reads that blindness alone is not a justifiable reason to decline an insurance risk.
As such your company is hereby directd to immediately take the necessary actions to delete or supercede any printed underwriting instructions noting the declination of an application due to blindness. Further, to advise in writing all agents licensed to market your products in Maryland that no application for insurance is to be refused or rejected at the agency level based on "blindness or other physicial handicap or disability of an applicant. . ." and that the judgment on any cases of this nature should be made at the underwriting level.
Your company's compliance with the aforementioned directions is expected within thirty (30) days of this letter. Confirmation of compliance should be forwarded to this office within the time specified.
Should Connecticut Mutual not comply within the thirty (30) days, this letter will also act as a notice of hearing under the provisions of Section 35 (1) and (2) of the Annotated Code of Maryland.
Leslie L. Ransom, Sr.
Maryland Department of Licensing and Regulation
Silver Spring, Maryland
November 30, 1984
Dear Mr. Gashel:
I wish to thank you for your efforts on my behalf following my inquiry about potential insurance discrimination. As a result of your concern, the Maryland State Insurance Commission has contacted Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance, the firm that attempted to deny me coverage under its disability program. Yesterday a Connecticut Mutual Life agent visited me and assisted me in drawing up an application for disability benefits. That application will now be submitted and, of course, it will be necessary to make certain that no restrictions based on blindness appear in the final policy.
Mr. Leslie Ransom of the Insurance Commission wishes to remain informed about this application, as its denial would constitute a test case of the Maryland nondiscrimination statute. Needless to say, I am hoping that no further problem will arise. Again, my appreciation goes to you and the NFB for your very prompt and effective intervention.
This is one more piece of evidence of the need for united, concerted action by the blind. If, over twenty years ago, we had not launched an effort to reform the insurance industry's policies on blindness, we could not have helped Alan Clive in 1984. If we had not taken our case before the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in 1977 and 1978, we could not have helped Alan Clive in 1984. If we had not gone to the state legislature in the state of Maryland to enact a statute banning insurance discrimination based on blind-ness, we could not have helped Alan
Clive in 1984. If we had not gone to Congress to report that there is still discrimination despite state laws against it, it is doubtful whether we could have helped Alan Clive in 1984, or at least not as quickly as we did. If we do not continue to go to Congress and to ask others in authority to help us with this and similar forms of discrimination based on blindness, we will not be in a position to help the blind of today, the blind of the next generation, or the blind of the generation after that. Everything we do in our movement today counts for something. This is why it is meaningful to call ourselves Federationists and to be part of this organization. We are changing what it means to be blind, one battle and one victory at a time. This case is testimony beyond dispute.
In the Braille Monitor for December, 1984, we reported that the Lincoln National Insurance Company had recently announced a new-found willingness to end certain practices of discrimination against the blind. But the reform was not complete. Lincoln National said it would still charge extra premiums to applicants or policy holders during the first two years of blindness. This was based on a conclusion by the underwriters that there is a higher mortality rate for people who are newly blind. Company officials said there was actuarial evidence to justify the additional premiums.
We asked them to produce the evidence. "Just give us actuarial statistics, computer generated analyses of death records, or whatever it is that proves the newly blind die sooner than the long time blind or the sighted," we said. We were told the evidence existed, and we could have it. That was on October 16, 1984.
On December 6, 1984, I received a call from someone who identified herself as Miss Kelly from Lincoln National's home office in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was not a top official of the company. It turns out that Miss Kelly is a staffer for Lincoln National doing research to find out if the newly blind die sooner than anyone else. On October 16, 1984, we were assured that the evidence existed, at least according to the underwriters. But on December 6, 1984, a researcher is calling the National Federation of the Blind to find the evidence. What a strange world we live in.
Perhaps it is not so strange. We have known all along that the evidence does not exist. Everything in our experience with blindness and blind people tells us that because of blindness we are not less healthy or more hazard prone than others. This experience is the evidence, the only real evidence that exists. That is what I told Miss Kelly. So Lincoln National should just sell us the insurance without extra charges. Maybe they will, especially when company officials admit to themselves and to others (including Congress) that there really is no evidence to show that blind people are greater risks than others.
The insurance industry, with all of its banks of computers, cannot find the evidence which it claims to have, so it comes to the National Federation of the Blind to ask for help. It wants us to give it the answer to the question which we ourselves asked. In a way this is not surprising. After all, we are the largest organization of blind people in the nation, and we are the ones who know about blindness. In other words we are the experts. Obviously Miss Kelly thought so, and logic is on her side. It remains to be seen whether the insurance companies will come the rest of the way in eliminating discrimination, whether the state insurance commissioners will insist upon equal treatment and justice, and whether Congress will find it necessary to intervene with legislation. As with so many other things, these are not questions which will be determined by fate. They will be determined by us, by the blind themselves--by the National Federation of the Blind.