John Clements has had a clean driving record in the 10 years since he returned from Vietnam where he lost the use of both legs. Clements learned to drive with hand controls and was given automobile insurance only as his wife's dependent. His rates were high.
"I went to three (insurance) agencies. I was turned down," Clements, who now walks with a limp, told the Maryland Senate Economic Matters Committee today. The committee is considering a bill to prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against present or prospective policyholder based solely on their physical disability.
Clements and representatives of two other interest groups asked the committee today to support that bill and two others to change different aspects of the state's insurance laws. All of the bills would result in higher premiums for health and auto insurance, insurance representatives said.
A second bill would raise the minimum payment made on automobile accident insurance claims from $20,000 for one person and $40,000 for two or more persons to $50,000 and $100,000. According to figures from state officials, the bill would raise by $29 the average premium for a person over 25 with a clean record. That would mean a $40 average increase for ity dwellers, $30 for suburbanites and $17 for those who live in rural areas.
The trird bill seeks to force insurance companies to provide mental health benefits to those persons receiving osychiatric or psychological treatment in halfway houses. Many insurors currently provide benefits only when persons with mental health problems are housed in hospital type institutions.
Insurance company representatives objected to all three bills, saying they would raise customers rates.
Sen. Harry J. McGuirk (D-Baltimore City), chairman of the committee, said after the hearing that the committee members decided to revise the measures before voting on them. If the committee then approves the bills, they will be sent to the Senate.
Under present practice, persons with some disabilities such as lost limbs are insured if they have the appropriate equipment installed in their cars.
The proposed change would prohibit insurors from discriminating in the rates they charge physically handicapped persons unless they have data that shows the physically handicapped drive worse than other motorists. Insurance representatives yesterday said they had no such data. Clements said several studies showed physically handicapped motorists drive as well or better than the average driver.
The bill also would forbid insurors from requiring the physically handicapped to have special equipment in their cars and prohibits firms from canceling insurance just because a driver has a physical disability.
The law would apply to other types of insurance but the main idscussion today focused on automobile insurance.
McGuirk said that the committee probably will pass the bill to raise the minimum auto insurance claim limit but with lower limits than those proposed such as $30,000 for one person and $60,000 for two or more.
The bill requiring health insurors to give benefits to mentally ill patients in halfway houses, which several committee members, supported vigorously probably will be modified to specify that only psychiatrists or clinical psychologists would be allowed to refer patients to the houses, McGuirk said.