03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sensitivity Training: GOP Senator Batters Witness Over Domestic Violence Report

After the Huffington Post reported that eight states still allow insurance companies to treat domestic violence as a precondition, leaders from three of those declared that they would put an end to the practice.

North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr took a different approach and instead challenged the head of the organization, the National Women's Law Center, that issued the original report at a Senate hearing Thursday.

Burr's reaction was the polar opposite of Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who told the Jackson Free Press after the story broke that he was ashamed that his state was on the list.

"Would I do something about it? Hell, yeah, I'd do something about it, but I'm a regulator, not a legislator. I have to come to terms with that every week," he said, calling on the legislature to take action.

North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm, a former violent-crimes prosecutor, told the Huffington Post that he and Gov. John Hoeven (R) are working to change the standing policy in their state. "Quite frankly, I was stunned and I couldn't believe it," he said of North Dakota's inclusion on the list, vowing to change the law when the legislature comes back in session.

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin similarly said that he would encourage the state legislature to clarify the law. The state does ban insurers from using domestic violence as a pre-existing condition within group plans, but is silent when it comes to individual and non-group plans. Following the story, Goodwin said that he would implement new rules and encourage the legislature to rectify the situation so that individual and non-group women were specifically protected, too. He also said that he had not found an example of any insurance company denying a woman coverage and citing domestic violence as the reason.

Advocates for survivors and victims of domestic abuse note that it's more complicated than that: insurers rarely specifically cite "domestic violence" as the reason to deny coverage, but instead cite the physical manifestations of it.

It was a distinction lost on Burr, who seized on Goodwin's statement that the commissioner didn't know of a case of insurance companies using domestic violence as a reason to deny coverage. On Thursday, when the group's founder and co-president, Marcia Greenberger, came to testify before the full Senate health committee, Burr used the bulk of his allotted time to question the accuracy of her report.

Burr demanded specific examples of women denied coverage, repeatedly interrupting the witness:

Greenberger: If I could get back to your question about the specific examples: they manifest themselves in many different ways. For example, if a woman ends up in an emergency room with cuts, bruises, broken arms, black eyes, typical injuries that result from domestic violence, we know of instances where women are being denied insurance coverage and neither the insurance company--

Bur: My question--

Greenberger: --doesn't view that--

Burr: --is specifically about North Carolina--

Greenberger: --and I'm trying to answer that--

Burr: --and the insurance commissioner tells me we haven't had a case. We haven't had anybody--

Greenberger: Well, I'm trying to explain. First, I think it's great that he is now explicitly having a rule, which as our report pointed out, didn't exist before. So that's really excellent, because of the way insurance companies deal with this issue in particular. They will often deny the coverage of victims and survivors of domestic violence without saying that that's the reason--

Burr: --I'm just going by your report--

Greenberger: You asked the question about did we follow up and we did.

Burr: Well, I found more information in my one call to North Carolina than I think your report did.


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