MEDIA RELEASE
Thurs., June 17, 2021
Contact: Adam Fox, 303-563-9108, [email protected]
Katie Reinisch, 303-653-1009, [email protected]com

DENVER – The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, along with a coalition of other leading health care advocates, today sent a letter to Governor Jared Polis urging him to sign SB21-169 into law, despite opposition from the insurance industry and other special interests. The bill prohibits the discriminatory use of big data and algorithms in insurance practice, which can harm consumers.

The letter states, in part:

“….We support efforts to address practices that, perhaps inadvertently, perpetuate systemic racism and other forms of discrimination. This is why we support SB21-169, [Concerning Protecting Consumers from Unfair Discrimination Practices]. We are concerned about the use of big data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence in insurance practices and the harm it can cause to Black, indigenous, and people of color as well as other protected classes.

Data is not neutral, it embeds past inequities, and the use of machines and mathematical models can reflect the bias of the humans that developed them. We believe SB21-169 is a practical, fair, and much needed approach to addressing unfair discrimination resulting from the use of big data and artificial intelligence. The legislation simply asks insurers to test their tools and prove there is no discriminatory impact.”

Adam Fox, deputy director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, added his comment:

“Some in the insurance industry are funding a statewide advertising and lobbying campaign in an attempt to get the Governor to veto this important legislation. One has to wonder why they are opposing a bill designed to remove discrimination from insurance practice.

“We urge the Governor to flat-out reject that self-interested pressure by signing this fair, anti-discrimination, and anti-racist bill into law. We hope he will send a message to those who would resist even testing the possibility that systemic racism exists in their industry and the data tools they may be using.

“Big data can be used responsibly, but there are examples where it is being used, whether intentionally or not, in ways that exacerbate economic and racial injustices, including in health management.

A 2019 study identified a case where a widely used algorithm essentially concluded that Black patients were healthier than equally sick white patients because it used costs as a proxy for health. Less money was spent on Black patients, likely because of barriers to care and structural racism, so the algorithm erroneously concluded that they were healthier — and denied them access to extra services being provided to white patients. The racial bias of this algorithm was estimated to reduce the number of Black patients identified for extra care by half, despite having equal health needs to white patients.

“Under this bill, insurance companies will have the opportunity to learn from this process, evaluate their data systems, and identify discrimination they may not have even been aware existed in their tools. Big data can be powerful, but that data can engrain biases and injustice if not used properly, and we need to make sure this power is not used in ways that continue systems of discrimination, oppression, or racism.  We hope the Governor will sign this bill into law.”

Colorado Consumer Health Initiative is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that represents 40+ Colorado health organizations with more than 500,000 health care consumers advocating for equitable access to high-quality, affordable health care. In 2018, CCHI received the “Get Wise” Consumer Protection award from the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA).

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