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Suit Protests Life Denials Citing Travel To Israel

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NU Online News Service, May 4, 2004, 5:40 p.m. EDT, Washington – A group of 14 life insurers faces a lawsuit filed in California by a man who alleges the companies are denying coverage to people who travel to Israel.[@@]

The 14 companies are accused of engaging in unfair and discriminatory business practices in violation of the California Business and Professions Code.

The lawsuit asks a California state court to issue an injunction that would prohibit life insurers in California from discriminating against applicants based on travel to Israel.

The plaintiff, Allen Estrin, claims that his application for life insurance was rejected due to his past and planned future travel to Israel.

According to the complaint, many California citizens, including those of the Jewish and Christian faith, visit Israel as tourists or pilgrims to holy sites.

Businessmen and politicians also frequently visit Israel, the complaint says.

“California citizens, who apply for life insurance, should not be denied life insurance policies based upon their lawful travel to Israel as tourists, participants in holiday pilgrimages or otherwise,” the complaint says.

Lisa Stern, an attorney representing Estrin, says in a statement: “The denial of life insurance to persons who have traveled or plan to travel to Israel is crippling tourism and commerce, tearing families apart and punishing the only friendly democracy in the Middle East.”

Jack Dolan, a representative of the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, says travel is a legitimate factor used by life insurers in the underwriting process and represents one factor among many that companies may use.

He adds that this is not about travel to any one country but about travel to regions of the world where significant health and security concerns exist.

Life insurers, Dolan says, are not arbitrary in the use of travel in underwriting.

Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, D-Ill., has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would bar life insurers from denying coverage to people who travel lawfully to countries such as Israel and Turkey.

The legislation, H.R. 3927, is called the Life Insurance Anti-Discrimination in Travel Act.