Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Gender Profiling

GOP lawmakers sent gender-based insurance legislation to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, only to meet a veto

For nearly three decades Montana has banned the practice of basing insurance premiums upon a person’s gender. Last year, a new brand of lawmaker nearly repealed Montana’s unisex insurance laws. Unisex laws are gender-blind.

In 2005, Senate Bill 351 by Duane Grimes, R-Clancy, was tabled by a Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.

In 2008, when running for state auditor, Grimes referred to SB 351: “I think it’s politically unfair that you were after me for discriminating against women because of bills I’ve carried in the past.”

Grimes lost that race to Democrat Monica Lindeen. Lindeen contended that if a larger pool does not share the cost for things like gynecological care and maternity coverage, then women bear the sole burden.

In 2009, Senate Bill 142 by Gary Perry, R-Manhattan, passed the Republican-controlled Senate but failed in the Democratic-controlled House.

“For 25 years, no Legislature has overturned it and there is good reason why every attempt has failed,’’ said Lindeen at the SB 142 hearings. ‘‘Why would we tolerate women paying more for their health insurance?’’

But in 2011, House Bill 283 by Liz Bangerter, R-Helena, passed the Legislature. Republicans banded together as one voting bloc. The new brand of GOP lawmakers included Rep. Derek Skees, R-Whitefish, the candidate now seeking to unseat Lindeen as the next insurance commissioner.

GOP lawmakers sent gender-based insurance legislation to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, only to meet his veto.

With his veto Schweitzer wrote, “Yet, as a society, we understand that it would be socially repugnant to allow different insurance rates or benefits on grounds of an individual’s race or religion. Using a constitutional framework, there is no difference between the prohibition on setting insurance rates and benefits based on race or religion and the same prohibition as applied to gender. These classifications are equally and expressly prohibited.”

Schweitzer referred to the Individual Dignity provision of the Montana Constitution, which states, “The dignity of the human being is inviolable. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. Neither the state nor any person, firm, corporation, or institution shall discriminate against any person in the exercise of his civil or political rights on account of race, color, sex, culture, social origin or condition, or political or religious ideas.”

Recently, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors hosted a Republican debate for the gubernatorial primary in early June.

The attending GOP candidates pledged to sign into law the practice of letting insurance companies use gender when evaluating insurance risk. These Republican men, including presumptive frontrunner Rick Hill, said they would all support the insurance industry at next year’s Legislature.

“It is a crazy law,” declared candidate Corey Stapleton, who in 2001 sponsored a bill to repeal the gender exclusion.

In a report, which examined other states that allow gender bias, the National Women’s Law Center said that companies charge women more than men for similar coverage. Gender-based premiums cost women $1 billion more annually.

The Center pointed that even with maternity coverage excluded, nearly one-third of plans charge 25- to 40-year-old women roughly one-third more than men for the same coverage. Gender-based insurance in South Dakota charges a 40-year-old woman over $1,200 more than a man of the same age.

Lt. governor candidate Sen. Jon Sonju, R-Kalispell, has a track record of voting for gender-based insurance. The Hill and Sonju gubernatorial team is mistaken in assuming that women – most of the electorate – will tolerate more gender-based political shenanigans.

With Hill and the new brand of Republicans supporting gender profiling, women voters may well opt for a Democrat in the governor’s office to veto any “socially repugnant” bills that pass the Legislature.