In October 1999, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a Discussion Paper for public consultation entitled Human Rights Issues in Insurance. The objective of the consultation was to promote dialogue on human rights issues in insurance raised in the Paper as well as issues raised by industry, government and consumer representatives. The Commission received 19 submissions and held two round-table discussions, one with representatives from the life/disability insurance sector and one with the auto/property insurance sector.
Life and Disability Insurance
Industry representatives maintain that the industry’s use of bona fide and reasonable risk assessment criteria is thorough and current. Setting risk criteria requires flexibility, which is important for product availability, innovation and alternatives. Access to information on pre-existing conditions should not be limited and industry representatives also felt that employers have shared responsibility for employee insurance plans.
Consumer concerns include: reasonableness of exclusionary periods, denial on the basis of genetic information, and the fact that some claimants have little access to affordable dispute resolution mechanisms. Consumer representatives felt that there is a reciprocal duty on insurance companies to disclose material facts. Medical reporting requirements and related policy discontinuance harassment was also cited as an issue and claim-handling variations were reported for so-called “softer” conditions such as mental illness.
Representatives of the auto insurance industry are of the view that age, sex and marital status continue to be bona fide and reasonable factors in assessing driver risk in accordance with the 1992 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Zurich. Although other variables, like personal driving records, years of driving and average loss history of vehicles by make and model, are also used, the industry’s review to date (confirmed in a June 2000 study) concludes that there are currently no suitable alternatives to replace age, sex and marital status. At the same time, there are other jurisdictions such as British Columbia and Massachusetts that do not rely on age, sex and marital status in risk assessment. The industry contends, however, that such public schemes have lead to rate dislocation (higher costs not proportionate with risk for certain groups) and product availability problems.
Where do we go from here?
- The Commission will communicate with various government, industry and consumer representatives and other jurisdictions with respect to issues raised in the research and consultation findings, including the Provincial Advisory Committee on Predictive Genetic Technologies as well as the Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario on the issue of genetic testing and discrimination in insurance, employment and other areas.
- The Commission will promote the principle that the insurance industry should strive to move away from using enumerated grounds of discrimination in risk assessment.
- The Commission will undertake to encourage the insurance industry, consumer representatives and government to establish a mechanism(s) to promote dialogue review process on issues related to human rights in insurance.