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Lindeen promotes bills to safeguard Montanans’ DNA information, data collected by vehicle “black boxes”

HELENA, Mont. – Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen today announced a bill that would prohibit insurance companies from forcing Montanans to undergo genetic testing  — especially when that information will be used to deny Montanans insurance or charge them more for it.

House Bill 45 sets the standard that the genetic information of individual Montanans belongs to individual Montanans – and insurance companies cannot compel citizens to undergo genetic testing for the purposes of discriminating against the same individuals.

The bill had its first hearing today before the House Business and Labor Committee. The committee did not vote on the bill.

HB45 would apply to life insurance, disability income or long-term care insurance. Health insurance companies are already prohibited from discriminating against citizens based on their health status. In fact, most forms of insurance are prohibited from requiring genetic testing, but Montana law still allows them for life, disability income and long-term care insurance.

“Insurance companies don’t have the right to go looking in your DNA for a reason to charge you higher prices,” Lindeen said. “I want that spelled out plain and simple in Montana law.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Karjala, D-Billings, puts Montana on par with other states where genetic information cannot be used as a basis for insurance discrimination.

The bill is part of a larger effort Lindeen is bringing before the 2015 Montana Legislature to safeguard the privacy rights of Montanans.

She is behind another bill – House Bill 78, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Lynch, D-Butte – which specifies that information automatically recorded by an automobile’s “black box” recorder belongs to the vehicle owner and insurance companies must ask their permission before accessing it.

The House Business and Labor Committee held a hearing on the bill earlier this month. They have not yet voted on the bill.

Vehicle recording devices are common on most modern vehicles. Millions of automobiles are factory equipped with a recording device, although many people may not realize their automobile has one and is able to record certain information, like the speed of the vehicle, on a continuous recording loop.

Data is not typically stored in the device for very long; they are generally designed to have new data recordings constantly replace the old. In the case of an accident, the devices capture a “freeze frame” of information around the accident. Some insurance companies seek that information in an effort to provide discounts

The problem, however, stems from the lack of clarity around who owns information the recorders create. The idea behind Lindeen’s bill is that such data belongs to the driver. There may be good reasons for a driver to share that information with their insurance company, Lindeen said, as some discount programs are good for consumers. But Montanans must be in the driver’s seat about the ownership of data collected in their own vehicles.