Over the weekend, the US House of Representatives approved a health care reform bill. The plan would stop insurance companies from denying patients coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
A women’s rights group says eight states, including North Carolina, currently let insurers deny coverage to victims of domestic violence because they are high-risk.
The claim from the Women’s Law Center has forced regulators to check potential loopholes in state law. For victims of domestic violence, the possibility of being denied insurance coverage for what happened to them is just another indignity.
“He would threaten me in front of the kids, he would say he was going to kill me and bury me outside,” said a domestic violence victim who asked to be called ‘Maria’.
It’s a threat many victims of domestic violence have heard before, and yet victims are so scared of their abuser, that the threat may not be enough to make them leave.
Prosecutor Joe Bowman sees it all too often. “Their self-esteem, their self worth and how much courage they have, has been reduced.”
It took ‘Maria’ ten years before she left her abusive husband. “I was scared that if I didn’t, what would he do? He had hit me over the head with a glass bottle.”
But could being a victim actually lead an insurance company to deny health coverage?
The D.C. based Women’s Law Center says yes.
The group named North Carolina as one of eight states that consider domestic violence injuries, whether physical or emotional, pre-existing conditions.
In the center’s study, domestic violence victims were grouped alongside people with illnesses like diabetes, and heart disease.
When we told ‘Maria’ about the claim, she was shocked. “Whenever you are a domestic violence victim, when you’re in it for 6 months, you may be fine, but when you’re in it for 10 years and you have children, you do require counseling.”
“You may be suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, it’s very typical, from anxiety disorder, you may need to see a psychiatrist, or psychologist. You may need to go through substance abuse, and it costs money,” Bowman said.
North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin says the study’s findings have no merit. “When we hear that North Carolina is included on a very dastardly list. First of all, we would combat it immediately.”
Goodwin admits the law may appear a bit fuzzy, but for individual coverage, insurance agencies could face severe disciplinary action if they try to deny a victim coverage for this reason. “North Carolina would never want to be another hurdle to persons that have been abused.”
Goodwin has filed a change with the legislature’s rule review committee to clarify that North Carolina does not discriminate against domestic violence victims.
US Senator Richard Burr says if insurance companies were denying coverage to domestic violence victims, they would find another excuse.
“They would never allow the insurance company to put that on their application, so that’s not a problem today, but the only way to do away with it altogether is to get rid of pre-existing conditions in total. I’m for that,” Burr said.
Burr has the chance to do that when the Senate takes up the House’s reform plan.
‘Maria’ hopes that freedom will give other victims the courage to seek treatment for their injuries and escape their prison of abuse. “I want to make them know that it wasn’t our fault that we were abuse victims.”
If passed, the administrative rule change won’t go into place until March 1, but this is an example of state lawmakers acting on an issue, and working to change it.