This was a historic year at the Colorado legislature. We invested in our state’s small businesses and local economies, we worked to save people money on health care and prescription drugs, we revamped our tax code to benefit working families instead of the most profitable corporations, and we invested in mental health care throughout the state.
We also worked to protect consumers and fight discrimination through Senate Bill 169, which is on its way to the governor’s desk.
Our bill simply asks insurance companies to ensure that they are not discriminating against people of color and other underserved groups. Coloradans shouldn’t be charged more for insurance of any kind based on their skin color, ethnicity, educational background, or ZIP code.
Insurance companies and their representatives adamantly agreed with this shared goal every time we spoke with them and every time they testified on our bill. Yet, the industry continues to use scare tactics in what we view as an attempt to mislead the public about what our bill actually does, including through an aggressive ad campaign in this very news site.
It is in the face of these insurance-industry efforts that we, the bill’s sponsors, come together to explain our bill and clear up any misconceptions.
Insurance companies collect and analyze dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of data points, on consumers. Depending on the company and the type of insurance, your education level, job, credit score, how many friends you have on social media, and where you live, may be used by insurers’ big data systems to calculate premiums.
These algorithms may also decide, for example, how much the insurance company should pay you for an insurance claim — or even whether they want to offer you insurance at all. These are black boxes of big data and artificial intelligence that the insurance companies themselves may not fully understand the ramifications of. We need accountability and transparency for consumers.
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To be clear, we welcome and applaud technological advances and innovation in the insurance industry, but the insurance industry has a responsibility to show that its use of big data and artificial intelligence does not perpetuate systemic racism and other patterns of discrimination. That is all our bill asks insurance companies to do.
Here’s an example of why we need this safeguard: A Consumer Reports and ProPublica study reported that auto insurers charge higher average premiums to drivers living in predominantly minority neighborhoods than to drivers with similar driving records living in majority-white neighborhoods. The study further indicated that the disparity in prices could not be justified by risk alone.
Another Consumer Reports investigation found that an adult single driver with a clean driving record and poor credit in Colorado is charged $1,652 more than a driver with a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) conviction and good credit.
These types of discrepancies are alarming, have enormous consequences for consumers, and should have no place in Colorado’s insurance industry. We championed SB 169 because we know how important is it to protect consumers from discrimination and bring equity to the insurance industry, and we are extremely proud that it’s headed to the governor’s desk.
We need companies to show us that their tools and systems are accurate, unbiased and do not unfairly discriminate against people based on their race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity, or gender expression.
SB 169 is about equity and equal opportunity for all Coloradans. Across sectors, so many of us are working to eliminate injustice in our world. It certainly seems fair to ask insurance companies to do their part.
Janet Buckner, Democrat of Aurora, represents District 28 in the Colorado Senate. Daneya Esgar, Democrat of Pueblo, is state House of Representatives majority leader. Naquetta Ricks, Democrat of Aurora, represents District 40 in the Colorado House.