STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - LUNCH EDITION - MONDAY, MARCH 3, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

REP SEEKS GENDER EQUALITY IN PRIVATE DISABILITY INSURANCE

A 50-year-old nonsmoking woman would need to pay 57 percent more than her male counterpart to purchase disability insurance worth $100 in monthly benefits, according to Rep. Ruth Balser, who is seeking to change the law to eliminate the disparity. Balser's bill (S 427/ H 838) filed in the Senate by now-Congresswoman Katherine Clark had a hearing before the Committee on Financial Services last Thursday. The Newton Democrat said in written testimony that after the Bay State adopted the Equal Rights Act in 1976, a legislative committee determined insurance should be gender-neutral, and currently health insurance, car insurance, homeowner's insurance and annuity policies "may not use gender as an underwriting criterion." The price of privately purchased disability insurance varies depending on a person's gender, much as health insurance prices vary based on a person's age and tobacco usage. Committee co-chairman Rep. Michael Costello questioned a panel about whether the Legislature would need to act, saying, "I'm just wondering why it's never been litigated." Costello said his first reaction was to be supportive but he has concerns how changes would affect the entire disability insurance market. "For better or worse Mr. Chairman, it is in your hands," said Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women spokeswoman Victoria Budson, who said disability insurance purchased through an employer cannot use gender in its actuarial tables, but private insurance can.


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Budson said in written testimony, "Access to disability insurance is imperative, as its benefits can be critical in supporting a household or family during what is already a strenuous and difficult period of illness or injury." Some opposed Balser's legislation. "There is science to back up the actuarial statistics," said Matthew Berard, who said he is a disability insurance specialist. He said, "Men cannot get pregnant, so as a result of that maternity factor women do pay more." He said maternity is a leading reason for distribution of disability benefits. The issue has been raised in years past; supporters have been unable to convince the Legislature to change the law. - A. Metzger/SHNS

A 50-year-old nonsmoking woman would need to pay 57 percent more than her male counterpart to purchase disability insurance worth $100 in monthly benefits, according to Rep. Ruth Balser, who is seeking to change the law to eliminate the disparity. Balser's bill (S 427/ H 838) filed in the Senate by now-Congresswoman Katherine Clark had a hearing before the Committee on Financial Services last Thursday. The Newton Democrat said in written testimony that after the Bay State adopted the Equal Rights Act in 1976, a legislative committee determined insurance should be gender-neutral, and currently health insurance, car insurance, homeowner's insurance and annuity policies "may not use gender as an underwriting criterion." The price of privately purchased disability insurance varies depending on a person's gender, much as health insurance prices vary based on a person's age and tobacco usage. Committee co-chairman Rep. Michael Costello questioned a panel about whether the Legislature would need to act, saying, "I'm just wondering why it's never been litigated." Costello said his first reaction was to be supportive but he has concerns how changes would affect the entire disability insurance market. "For better or worse Mr. Chairman, it is in your hands," said Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women spokeswoman Victoria Budson, who said disability insurance purchased through an employer cannot use gender in its actuarial tables, but private insurance can. Budson said in written testimony, "Access to disability insurance is imperative, as its benefits can be critical in supporting a household or family during what is already a strenuous and difficult period of illness or injury." Some opposed Balser's legislation. "There is science to back up the actuarial statistics," said Matthew Berard, who said he is a disability insurance specialist. He said, "Men cannot get pregnant, so as a result of that maternity factor women do pay more." He said maternity is a leading reason for distribution of disability benefits. The issue has been raised in years past; supporters have been unable to convince the Legislature to change the law. - A. Metzger/SHNS

With the Republican nominating convention less than three weeks away, gubernatorial candidate Mark Fisher on Monday said he wants to debate frontrunner Charlie Baker before delegates decide who will make the ballot. But the party's presumed nominee seems cool to the idea. Fisher issued a challenge to Baker Monday morning to debate in advance of the March 22 convention when the Republican Party will cast ballots for their gubernatorial nominee. Fisher runs the risk of not advancing to the primary if he cannot secure 15 percent of voting delegates. "I know that debates are essential to an informed electorate and with our convention just a few weeks away I believe we owe it to the delegates and the entire party to join together and explain our policy positions," Fisher said in a statement. Baker, who successfully avoided a primary challenge in 2010 when Christy Mihos was knocked off the ballot at the convention, said voters will have ample opportunity to hear where the candidates stand. Asked about a debate, Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said, "Right now Charlie is making his case to convention delegates in addition to independents and Democrats. There will be plenty of time in this campaign for debate and a healthy exchange of ideas." Fisher, who has cast himself as a conservative alternative for GOP voters, said he had previously accepted an invitation to debate Baker on Feb. 6 from the Boston Globe Media Lab, but Baker declined. The Shrewsbury Republican drew a contrast to the Democratic race where the five primary candidates have participated in multiple forums together. Baker and Fisher have also appeared together at some Republican caucuses and the Massachusetts Municipal Association Forum. - M. Murphy/SHNS