The Senate Commerce Committee has approved a bill requiring insurance companies to use actuarial tables that would set the same premiums for and provide the same benefits to men and women.
The bill would end the industry's practice of charging women lower premiums for automobile policies while making them pay more than most men for health policies and annuities. These rate differences were developed from sex-based actuarial tables that showed women live longer and have fewer auto accidents than men but are more prone to illness.
"Congress has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion and national origin in the areas of housing, employment and credit. Why should we tolerate discrimination in insurance?" asked Committee Chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.). He and Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) were the main Senate supporters of the measure, which the insurance industry opposes.
Although House Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) supports the bill, it has not been approved by his committee and thus is unlikely to get through Congress this year.
The bill passed the Senate committee on a voice vote, with Senators Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and J. James Exon (D-Neb.) opposed.
The legislation was prompted by complaints from working women that they are forced to pay higher rates for annuities than men on the grounds that actuarial tables show that they live longer. But they argued that working women who seek this coverage actually do not have a longer life span than men.
Committee sources cited figures showing that 86 percent of men had the same death age as 86 percent of the women in a study of 200,000 retirees. But the rest of the women lived longer than the rest of the men, causing the excess premiums, the study showed.
Insurance industry officials, however, cited a study by the American Academy of Actuaries that showed women would pay an additional $1.1 billion in premiums if sex-based tables were done away with. Whatever they would save in annuity payments would be more than made up by the extra premiums they would be charged for auto insurance.
Insurance Information Institute figures showed that women would have to pay between $700 million and $800 million more in premiums for auto insurance, where women under 25 have far lower rates than their male counterparts.