The CEA, the European insurance and reinsurance federation, has warned that there could be far-reaching implications for the price and availability of insurance cover if an opinion by the advocate general is upheld by the European Court of Justice.
The Advocate General's opinion in the case brought by the Belgian consumer association Test-Achats disagrees with the current derogation in European Union law which allows EU member states to permit insurers to make sex-specific differences in insurance premiums and benefits when sex is a determining risk factor.
"The core principle of risk assessment is that people in comparable situations are treated equally and those in different situations are treated differently," said Michaela Koller, CEA director general.
"If this risk-based, factual principle is not maintained, premiums will increase, coverage will decrease and some products will be withdrawn from the market entirely. Insurers must be able to calculate their premiums in a fair and sustainable way, using all relevant factors."
The advocate general's opinion concluded that the use of risk factors based on sex in connection with insurance premiums and benefits is incompatible with the principle of equal treatment for men and women under European law. She concluded that the court should declare the relevant derogating provision in EU Directive 2004/113 invalid.
"Insurers strongly support efforts to prevent discrimination, but if all insurance consumers are treated in the same way, some will inevitably be disadvantaged," insisted Ms Koller. "Insurers differentiate. They do not discriminate.
The Association of British Insurers confirmed this would affect protection policies, although the original case was a general insurance one.
An ABI spokesman said: "This is potentially damaging. While only an opinion, it questions the long established practice of insurers using statistical gender data when it is relevant to risk. Trying to create unisex insurance policies, that ignore risk indicators, is practically impossible and will harm all consumers through more expensive premiums."
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