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Victims abused then denied care: 8 states allow practice

Oct 14, 2009

by Lisa Rea

After reading the news story on MSNBC I was astounded. The story tells of the denial of health care insurance to victims of domestic violence in the U.S.  This apparently has been going on for quite a while in the U.S. but most of us probably never heard about this appalling fact.   As the story reads, a 1994 survey conducted by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee found that 8 of 16  U.S. insurers denied coverage to applicants due to domestic violence. You'd think maybe we were talking about the offender (i.e. the abuser) being denied coverage but, no, we're talking about the victim of domestic violence. In the U.S. health insurance companies can deny coverage without explaining why that coverage is being denied.

How does this apply to restorative justice? Victims of crime need relief, healing and restoration as much as possible. Can we talk about restorative justice without seeing the full needs of victims of crime? I don't think so. By allowing health insurance companies to deny coverage based on the past history of victims, in this case being abused by their own spouses, is just another form of victimization. This is just another level of abuse of victims and another example of victims having their rights denied them. No victim chooses to be victimized. At the very least, crime victims should be given all that they need to live their lives free from violence and abuse.

The story points out that there is a need for a federal law to prohibit this discriminatory practice. Given that right now in Washington D.C. Congress is debating a national health care policy, it seems it would be a good time to fix this abysmal practice.  I'd like to see insurance companies fined for denying coverage to any applicant who has been a victim of crime (i.e. domestic violence or otherwise). There have been efforts in Congress to pass legislation to correct this problem but those measures have failed in the past, including legislation proposed in the Senate in 2006.
Actions are needed to show the public what restorative justice looks like when it moves from the realm of theory to the area of practice. We in the restorative justice movement need to get in the trenches and affect  public policy and represent those who have been victimized who often have no voice. We need to apply our understanding of restorative justice and take it to the real world where it can affect hundreds of victims and offenders alike. This would be one way to bring a measure of relief to victims of crime.

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