Towards a Civil Rights Approach to Insurance Anti-Discrimination Law
43 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2019 Last revised: 16 Jun 2020
Date Written: July 11, 2019
Discrimination is fundamental to the business of auto and homeowners insurance. Yet state insurance law does remarkably little to police against the risk that this discrimination will unfairly harm minority or low-income communities. Not only do state insurance regulators completely ignore the prospect that facially-neutral insurance practices might disparately impact vulnerable populations, but they affirmatively suppress the production and dissemination of data that would advance a better understanding of this risk. Meanwhile, most states continue to cling to an antiquated, ineffective, and inefficient scheme of “public utility style” rate regulation that purports to prohibit “excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory” insurance rates. This scheme not only undermines the operation of efficient insurance markets, but also helps to shield the industry and state regulators from scrutiny regarding how insurance practices impact larger social goals—like facilitating socio-economic mobility. This Article argues that insurance law should scrap its regime of public utility style rate regulation in favor of a civil rights approach to anti-discrimination law. Such an approach should, at a minimum, promote the collection and public disclosure of company specific, transaction-level data on insurance applications, purchases, losses, and policyholder membership in legally protected groups—much in the manner of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Further paralleling modern anti-discrimination regimes in consumer finance, this civil rights approach should afford private parties a cause of action against insurers based on a modified disparate impact theory that reflects the important role of risk-based discrimination in insurance markets. This could be accomplished by recognizing that insurance discrimination based on factors that genuinely predict claim frequency or severity, even after controlling for prohibited characteristics, constitutes a “legitimate non-discriminatory” practice under the familiar burden-shifting scheme for disparate impact liability.
Keywords: Insurance, Disparate Impact, Proxy Discrimination, Auto Insurance, Homeowners Insurance, State Insurance Regulation
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