Domestic Violence: A Pre-Existing Condition?

In my work on housing rights for domestic violence survivors, I’m regularly aware of the impossibility of addressing the issue of homelessness in a vacuum.  While those of us engaged in legal and policy work at the Law Center tend to focus on specific subject areas, the boundaries of our fields of expertise, as is generally the case in poverty law, are increasingly porous.  For low-income women who have experienced domestic violence, homelessness is often the end of a long road paved with barriers to stability and self-sufficiency.  Only when these obstacles disappear will a path to safe and secure housing emerge for them.

One particularly shameful impediment to economic security for DV survivors has recently come to light during the national debate on health care reform.  As it turns out, DC has the dubious distinction of remaining among the handful of states that permit insurance companies to regard a history of domestic violence as a pre-existing condition for purposes of denying coverage .  As outrageous as this fact might seem in isolation, it is particularly disturbing when viewed in tandem with such additional barriers to stability as housing and employment discrimination.

Women who disclose their status as survivors already face a range of repercussions: loss of income, hostility from landlords wary of noise and property damage, and inaccessibility of safe and affordable housing.  Until federal health care reform is fully implemented in 2014, they may have one more reason to fear the consequences of seeking the help they need.  Fortunately, members of the DC Council have recently sought to remedy this injustice by proposing legislation to ban local insurers from denying coverage due to domestic violence history.  The Law Center enthusiastically supports this step towards greater economic security for survivors.

-Rachel Natelson, Domestic Violence Attorney

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