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Wellstone Appears Before Wellstone at Senate Hearing

July 28, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It was an unusual scene, the wife of a U.S. senator testifying before a committee on which her husband serves.

But Sheila Wellstone says someone had to speak for the battered women who were afraid to go before Congress and talk about their problems getting health insurance.

``Somebody has to tell their stories until they feel they can,″ Mrs. Wellstone told the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, a member of the panel, is sponsoring legislation that would make it illegal for insurance companies to deny policies to women who have been abused by husbands or boyfriends.

Mrs. Wellstone, who has become an activist on domestic violence issues since her husband’s election to the Senate in 1990, is the ``driving force″ behind the legislation, said the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kansas.

Aides to Wellstone, D-Minn., had planned to have a victim of domestic violence or the representative of a battered-women’s shelter to testify before the committee.

But some women fear for the safety, and others are reluctant to talk publicly about their abuse, said Nancy Durborow, health projects coordinator for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

One of the potential witnesses was a woman who told Mrs. Wellstone she was denied health insurance because her medical record attributed her neck injury and depression to domestic violence. Many insurance companies consider domestic violence a ``pre-existing condition,″ such as cancer or another illness.

Advocates for battered women say women are being discouraged from reporting attacks by husbands or boyfriends for fear of being unable to get health coverage.

``It keeps the woman from going to the doctor when she really needs to,″ Mrs. Wellstone said.

Kassebaum opposes the legislation, saying it goes too far. Insurance companies should be allowed to deny insurance for pre-existing conditions for up to a year, she said.

The American Medical Association endorsed the legislation and at least one major insurance company, State Farm, recently decided that it will not consider domestic violence in determining whether to insure someone.

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