Insurer ends the ban on life coverage for travel to Israel

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NEW YORK — The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company has lifted its ban on issuing life insurance policies to people who travel frequently or for extended periods to Israel.

"MetLife deserves credit for recognizing that travel to Israel is safe and without unusual risk," New York state Assemblyman Jules Polonetsky (D-Brooklyn) said.

Polonetsky and New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) campaigned to end the practice of "blacklisting" Israel for life insurance purposes.

MetLife announced it would no longer ban frequent or extended periods of travel, both of which affected people who went to Israel for pleasure, studies and business, said Nancy Peskin, public relations manager at MetLife. More than two weeks of travel had been considered an extended period.

If the applicants are otherwise insurable, the company will offer policies of up to $500,000.

The policy restrictions were unearthed after Menno Ratzker, a member of the Orthodox Union's board of directors, was denied coverage because he traveled frequently to Israel.

The restrictive policy stemmed from "ignorance," not anti-Semitism, Polonetsky said.

People read the headlines, watch the news and "forget that the streets of Jerusalem are safer than many areas in New York," he said.

Polonetsky recently introduced legislation after several insurance companies disclosed that they treated travel to Israel and other "war zone risk" countries, such as Ireland, Afghanistan and Somalia, differently.

He declined to identify which firms other than MetLife had been denying coverage to travelers to Israel, saying that his investigation of insurance company practices is continuing.

The proposed legislation aims to ensure that insurance companies will base decisions on whether to provide coverage on such reasonable risk factors as an applicant's health and occupation.

The measure is being considered by the New York state Legislature. State Sen. Guy Vellela (R-Bronx) introduced the bill into the Senate.