Automobile insurance companies would be allowed to raise rates up to 200 percent on the basis of sex, race or age under a legislative amendment approved by a House of Delegates committee.

The amendment advanced by the industry was attached to a bill written to protect policyholders from unscrupulous treatment by insurers.

Insurance Commissioner Steven Foster told members of the House Committee on Corporations, Insurance and Banking Thursday that the amendment would strip consumer protections currently present in state law.

The amendment, introduced by Del. Frank D. Hargrove (R-Hanover), sailed to approval, with only Del. Bernard Cohen (D-Alexandria) abstaining.

Under the amendment, insurers would be allowed to raise premiums on a number of conditions, such as if the driver is elderly, single, foreign born or a minority group member. Insurers could raise rates even if the policyholder has a spotless driving record.

The amendement allows an insurance company to drop a policyholder from a premium to a substandard policy for any reason, which could result in a rate increase of up to 200 percent.

"We're sorry the amendment was passed," said Stephen Kaufman, a deputy commissioner for the Bureau of Insurance, which wrote the original bill. "There is no other antidiscriminatory language in the code that would stop" insurers from raising rates at whim. The bill now goes to the floor for a vote.