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Lawsuit alleges discrimination in new insurance pricing law

Sen. Diane Sands (D) SD-49 is a plaintiff in a lawsuit to strike down a new state law that allows insurance companies to consider marital and gender status when setting rates.
Mike Albans
/
Montana Public Radio
Sen. Diane Sands (D) SD-49 is a plaintiff in a lawsuit to strike down a new state law that allows insurance companies to consider marital and gender status when setting rates.

Three Montanans are asking a judge to strike down a new state law that allows insurance companies to consider marital and gender status when setting rates. They say they’re paying higher prices because they’re not married.

The three residents and the Montana Chapter of the National Organization for Women say the law passed by the 2021 Legislature, and violates the state Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Montana was the first state in the country nearly 40 years ago to ban insurance companies from considering gender and marital status when setting rates for consumers on auto and life insurance policies. California, Hawaii, Massachusetts and several other states followed Montana in creating such a ban.

Last year, the state’s Republican majority lifted that regulation at the request of Montana Insurance Commissioner, Troy Downing, saying it requires some consumers to pay more than they otherwise would. Health insurance was excluded because the federal Affordable Care Act prohibits gender discrimination in health coverage.

In a statement, Downing said allowing insurers to consider gender, among other factors, is justified to price rates according to consumers’ projected risk. He said his office ensures rates are not excessive, inadequate or unfairly discriminatory.

The plaintiffs, including Democratic state Sen. Diane Sands, say they’re being charged higher rates for car insurance because they’re not married and that the state Constitution protects them from discrimination. They filed suit in Lewis and Clark County.

According to WalletHub, most insurance companies charge higher premiums for single drivers as married people are statistically less likely to file claims.

Shaylee began covering state government and politics for Montana Public Radio in August 2020. Originally from Belgrade, Montana, she graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program and previously worked as a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and UM’s Legislative News Service. Please share tips, questions and concerns by emailing shaylee.ragar@mso.umt.edu.