The Guardian 9 February, 2005

A sign of things to come?

Helen Johnston is an 80-year-old retired paediatrician living in the USA. She does not consider herself to be much of a risk for being sued but her insurance company has a different view. Dr Johnston is losing the extra coverage she bought years ago while she still practiced medicine not because she is retired but because she is active in local politics.

The insurance company notified her that it would not renew her $1 million umbrella policy because of "the political positions the insured holds".

Dr Johnston is vice chairwoman of her town's Democratic Committee and a member of the Hillsborough County Democratic Committee. She helps campaigns by distributing posters and making calls, and she held a get-out-the-vote session for Howard Dean at her house.

The insurance company renewed Helen's policies covering her home and car because they don't cover libel or slander from political activities. But it would not renew her $1 million umbrella policy, which, as its name suggests, kicks in for claims not covered by the narrower policies.

Dr Johnston said she had nothing particular in mind when she bought her umbrella policy years ago. "People thought doctors had a lot of money, and I wanted coverage if my dog bit someone", she said.

She said she got the non-renewal letter after she filled out a questionnaire describing her activities.

"People should not be penalised for their political activity", Dr Johnston said.

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