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Panel considers Warburton plan for ending unisex insurance rates

HELENA — Even Shawn McQuillan's 88-year-old grandfather says his 20-year-old grandson drives too cautiously.

The younger McQuillan, who says he has never been in a car accident or received a ticket, testified against a measure Friday that would allow some insurance companies to consider gender when determining Montanans' policy rates — a measure that he finds discriminatory.

"If the bill before you is enacted, I would pay more simply because I am a male," McQuillan said.

Presented by Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, to the House Business and Labor Committee, House Bill 600 would still prohibit health insurance companies from considering a person's sex when establishing premiums, but it would repeal a 1985 measure that prohibits sex-based consideration on all other insurance rates.

The contentious issue has been challenged in the Legislature almost every session since its implementation.

Warburton said repealing the old anti-discrimination measure would put money back in the pockets of Montanans, particularly women who would pay less in car insurance than their male counterparts.

Supporters included insurance company representatives who said Montana's unisex insurance policy is out-of-date, and Montana is the only state in the country to hold on to such regulation.

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, who worked in insurance before becoming a legislator, said access to gender information would create healthy competition for insurance companies.

"We have information that says women are better risks than men," Ballance said.

Opponents refuted claims that the measure would benefit women, arguing that if enacted, the statute would hurt women in the long run.

While it would decrease rates for female drivers younger than 25, the bill would increase the cost of disability insurance and decrease life insurance payouts for older women, said Linda Gryczan, of the Montana Women's Lobby.

Since the enactment of Montana's unisex insurance policy measure, "working women no longer pay more disability insurance," Gyrczan explained. "Older women receive the same annuities as men."

It would also increase auto insurance rates for young men, even though they are safe drivers, she said.

Gov. Steve Bullock's office also opposed the measure, calling it a violation of Montana's constitution that guarantees all individuals freedom from discrimination.

The committee didn't take immediate action on the bill.


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