The Need for Life Insurance

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A major policy question for possible regulation of the use of genetic information in life insurance is whether access to life insurance should be considered an economic issue or a civil rights issue. If the former, insurance companies should be given wide latitude in deciding what information to consider in underwriting. If the latter, restricting insurer prerogatives (with the effect of low-risk individuals subsidizing high-risk individuals) may be necessary to promote other social policies. As described below, the survey data also may shed some light on public views on this question.
We asked the following:
Now I am going to read some statements about insurance and ask you to tell me whether you strongly agree, agree, have no opinion, disagree, or strongly disagree with each one. The first statement is…
A. Everyone needs health insurance.
B. Everyone has a right to health insurance.
C. Everyone needs life insurance.
D. Everyone has a right to life insurance.
The questions were block rotated (A and B, C and D). Because there is no legal right either to health or life insurance, we assumed that questions B and D were viewed by respondents as “Everyone should have a right to health/life insurance.”
Of our respondents, 91.2 % said that everyone needs health insurance and 90.6% said that everyone has a right to it. These data were in line with expectations. Furthermore, 69.2 % said that everyone needs life insurance. This was in line with expectations (70% of households have life insurance), in that depending on age, health, family status, and financial status, a substantial minority of respondents might not believe that everyone needs life insurance. On the second part of the question, however, instead of a comparable response, as was the case with the question on health insurance, 82.6% of respondents said that everyone has a right to life insurance. Overall, 62.2% agreed with both statements-that everyone needs and should have a right to life insurance.
A wide range of demographic factors can be detected from these responses. Those who regarded life insurance as both a need and a right had fewer years of education, tended to be African-American or Hispanic, were Catholic, and had total family incomes under $25,000 per year. About 20% believed that everyone needs life insurance, but that it is not a right. These individuals were likely to have college or postgraduate education, be older and widowed, be white or Asian, and have an annual income over $100,000. A little less than 7% did not feel that everyone needs life insurance, but that they should have a right to it. They were likely to be retired and to have incomes above $75,000 per year. Finally, about 10% of respondents did not think that everyone needs life insurance and did not believe that everyone should have the right to it. These individuals completed the most education, were more likely to be white, and to have incomes above $50,000.
How does one account for this disparity? Consistent responses regarding health insurance were not repeated for life insurance. A substantial number of respondents had different opinions about whether access to life insurance is an economic issue (need insurance), a civil rights issue (have a right to insurance), both, or neither.

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