Future Reflections Sept./ Oct./ Nov.1984, Vol. 3 No. 4

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By James Gashel

Have you ever encountered insurance discrimination? It's a common problem for many blind people and families having blind members. But, the National Federation of the Blind is attempting to put a stop to discrimination against the blind in insurance.

This discrimination occurs when insurance companies refuse to sell coverage to blind people or require them to pay higher than normal rates. Sometimes blind individuals are excluded from small group insurance plans, particularly health insurance. These decisions are made by insurance companies without any evidence to back them up. If statistics showed that blind people are greater risks (which they do not), denying coverage altogether, or charging extra rates would not be discriminatory.

Due to the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, several states have enacted laws or regulations prohibiting discrimination against the blind by insurance companies. But the state insurance departments have not succeeded in combatting this form of discrimination. In a hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives held last June 27, blind people told how they continue to face insurance discrimination when they try to buy life insurance, health insurance, accidental death coverage, and so forth. There is also evidence that parents of blind children have faced discrimination in instances where coverage of a blind child is denied or difficult to obtain at a rate most people can afford.

Bills introduced in Congress -- H .R. 4642, in the House of Representatives, and S. 2775, in the U.S. Senate -- call for a federal ban on insurance discrimination based on blindness. This legislation (entitled the Fair Insurance Coverage Act) would require insurance companies to have "sound actuarial evidence" for any decision made which treats blind people differently from others. While state insurance departments would still play some role in preventing discrimh. .vijn against the blind under state laws, the federal ban could be enforced by a federal court if a state insurance department failed to act within six months. Even though time in the remaining days of the 98th Congress ie short, the bill may pass the House of Representatives this session.

Then in January, 1985, it will have to be reintroduced for consideration in the next Congress. There is strong support in both the House and the Senate.

If you have encountered this problem, you can help by informing the National Federation of the Blind. Specific cases are especially helpful. Even if you have not encountered this form of discrimination, you can help by asking your Senators and Representatives to support the Fair Insurance Coverage Act, designed to prohibit insurance discrimination based on blindness.

In other areas, the National Federation of the Blind is working on legislation to improve employment opportunities for the blind through the elimination of job bias. We are working to improve wages for blind persons who are employed by sheltered workshops. We seek other measures which will improve Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs.

For more information on this legislation and other issues of interest, you may contact: James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; telephone (301) 659-9314.

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