N.Y. Insurance Department Investigates Discrimination Among Life Insurers

June 7, 2000

The New York State Department of Insurance has begun an investigation into reports that, for decades, some life insurance companies have discriminated against blacks and other minorities by charging them higher premiums than white customers.

Neil D. Levin, state superintendent of insurance, said there were no indications that discriminatory rates were still being charged by the more than 50 insurers selling policies in New York.

But it was not clear, he said, whether some customers were still paying discriminatory premiums on policies written long ago and whether inadequate death benefits from some of these policies might have been paid in recent years.

After making initial inquiries at four insurance companies, Levin ordered all the life insurers in the state to provide detailed written reports on whether they discriminated against blacks and other minority members, how they did so and if and when those practices were halted.

He would not name the four companies.

“We had preliminary conversations with some of the largest insurance writers in the state,” said Kevin M. Rampe, general counsel of the insurance department. “That gave us cause and reason to believe that these practices did take place in New York and that it wasn’t just a problem of the past but that it may be affecting people today.”

Levin decided to look into the matter after reading a Wall Street Journal report about widespread discrimination of blacks by life insurance companies in other states.

Rampe said after inquiries had been made at one company, others came forward with information implicating other companies.

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