A major insurer in Colorado is instructing its agents to only conduct business in English once a new law goes into effect next year.
House Bill 23-1004 requires insurance companies to provide detailed policy documents to consumers in the language they advertise in. If the company advertises in Spanish, for example, they need to make the application and all policy-related documents also available in Spanish.
Allstate, however, plans to comply with the new law by banning its agents in Colorado from advertising and selling insurance in languages other than English.
“Because Allstate policy documents are written in English, we will begin advertising, quoting and selling only in English to comply with this state law. You are only authorized to advertise, prospect, quote or sell property and casualty policies on behalf of Allstate in English. This activity in any other language on behalf of Allstate is no longer authorized,” an internal communication sent on Dec. 8 and reviewed by Colorado Newsline reads.
Spanish versions of Allstate agency websites and automated Spanish options for phone calls will no longer be available to Colorado customers.
The company’s interpretation of the law runs contrary to the intentions of the bill’s sponsors, who ran the legislation as a language access policy.
“It’s infuriating. We’re telling them that there’s a gap, and their initial reaction is to make it worse,” said Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, a Glenwood Springs Democrat and the architect of the legislation. “The intent was that these documents get translated into the language of the community.”
Velasco said the bill — her first after winning election to the state House in 2022 — drew from her years of experience as a translator and interpreter for Spanish-speaking Coloradans. About one in six residents of the Centennial State speak a language other than English at home, according to a 2021 survey from the Colorado Health Institute. Two-thirds of that population speak Spanish at home.
We’re telling them that there’s a gap, and their initial reaction is to make it worse.
– state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco
Allstate did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. It operates multiple companies in Colorado, which together account for about 4% of the market share of property and casualty insurance in Colorado, according to 2022 statistics from the Colorado Division of Insurance.
Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, said Thursday that the legislation created unintended “dire consequences” for both insurance agents and customers. The RMIIA is an industry trade group that represents insurers based in Colorado and three neighboring states.
Walker argued that it would be impossible for insurers to translate the thousands of necessary documents by Jan. 1, 2024 in order to comply with the law. It can take between two and four years to interpret documents to just Spanish, she said.
“It denies all of the other ways that insurance companies are able to market, sell, do policy serving, provide one-on-one services to people in other languages, because if they don’t have all these documents translated by January, they’re now subject to litigation triggered by advertising,” she said. “It’s a case of hurting the people that the legislation tried to help by setting an impossible legal bar.”
Consumers often do not understand insurance contracts — no matter the language they’re in — because of the complex terminology, Walker said, which is why agents and tools like call centers are important to help people understand and pick appropriate coverage.
If the documents are not translated in time, those agents, some of which have built their small business about serving Spanish, Vietnamese or other language speakers, will be limited in how they can reach out to those communities. Walker worries that will lead to bad actors taking advantage of non-English speakers who are not exposed to any advertising for reputable insurance companies, leaving them with subpar and expensive coverage.
At the minimum, the RMIIA is looking for a delay of the deadline, perhaps even to 2026.
“There is no proven harm that we know right now. People who speak other languages are getting served,” Walker said.
During legislative hearings earlier this year, insurance carriers did not publicly hint at this possible response to the new law, which was a largely uncontroversial bill during an at-times turbulent session. Some companies worked with sponsors to offer amendments, and are now hoping to find a legislative or regulatory solution.
“I’m very open to having conversations, assuming they come in with good faith, to try and remedy the situation,” Velasco said.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, in the Senate.
Allstate’s planned implementation of the law is legally sound, according to Vincent Plymell, assistant commissioner for communications and outreach at the state DOI. And it’s possible that other companies will take a similar route.
“In that regulation, there is some ambiguity in it,” he said. “Insurance companies are going to comply with it, as they need to, and unfortunately some are going to comply with it in what is clearly the opposite of the intent of the law by pulling back all of their communication efforts in other languages. It’s their take to avoid getting sued.”
The DOI issued an emergency regulation on the bill in October in an attempt to add clarity. It ruled that a customer service representative who speaks a language other than English or posts a sign in another language does not constitute an advertisement as defined in the bill.
People who have questions or concerns about their insurance policy, coverage, agent or company can contact the DOI’s consumer services team at (303) 894-7490 or at [email protected].
This story first appeared at Colorado Newsline. Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit news organization. Colorado Newsline is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent source of online news.