BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Trying to tackle the healthcare giant for women

Posted by egehl on July 15, 2009

Healthcare for WomenI don’t know about you, but I find healthcare to be one of the most confusing social problems out there.  While I know it’s an important issue and one that affects all of us, I feel a bit daunted about what the best direction is for our country to take in reforming this enormous system.  Regardless of my confusion, it’s the hot topic right now as President Obama travels the country promoting his healthcare ideas and Congress begins to introduce legislation and battle over what role the federal government should play in providing affordable, quality care. 

While there is a lot about healthcare I don’t know about there are two things I am sure of:  too many people are uninsured and have few options or opportunities to get the coverage they need and women have to pay higher insurance premiums for the same health coverage as men.  As the debate begins to heat up, it’s important to examine how the proposed healthcare reform ideas address the needs of women and in particular the gender inequities in our current system. 

I hope that the barriers women face to accessing quality, affordable, and comprehensive healthcare will be addressed in any policy proposed this year.  Women face certain inequities in the health insurance system.  If women are covered by an employer’s group policy they are usually protected by federal antidiscrimination laws however women have few protections when states regulate the market for individually bought policies. 

As many women will lament including myself, women can pay hundreds of dollars a year more than men for identical coverage.  It’s quite frustrating when you start a new job and look at the difference in premiums between male and female employees.

Healthcare for Women 2

The National Women’s Law Center has conducted further research about insurance inequities and analyzed 3,500 individual health insurance plans.  They found that insurers charged 40-year-old women anywhere from 4 percent to 48 percent more than they charged men of the same age.

According to a New York Times editorial entitled “Gouging Women on Health Insurance” the National Women’s Law Center study also found that “in some states insurers are allowed to reject applicants for reasons that effectively exclude many women, such as having had a Caesarean section or surviving domestic violence, and that the vast majority of individual policies don’t cover maternity care”.

In order to charge women more, insurance companies have come up with justifications for women to pay higher costs.  While women are more likely to take advantage of health services because of reproductive health needs, higher requests for prescriptions such as birth control and chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, this does not give insurance companies ground to charge an inordinate higher premium for coverage.  These higher premiums can vary substantially between companies and range from an additional 15% to 140%.   Insurance companies will use their justifications to an extreme to make more money, and women are the victims.  There are laws against using gender to set rates in employer-based insurance however it can be abused especially with individual policies.   

The irony of women paying more for health insurance is that on average they make less than men due to the persisting wage gap. 

So if a woman is lucky she gets a lower paycheck than her male counterpart while at the same time has to pay higher insurance premiums to get health coverage.  Oh, the irony. Somehow that doesn’t seem fair to me or a way to help women bolster their financial situation. 

In June, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unveiled the full text of its health care reform bill entitled “Affordable Health Choices Act”.  The bill tries to address how women can be gouged out of the system due to the high cost of health care.  According to the National Women’s Law Center the bill does begin to address the price inequities women face regarding their insurance premiums. 

Specifically, it bans the discriminatory insurance practice of gender rating, whereby women are charged more than men in the individual insurance market, even with maternity benefits excluded.  In addition, it prohibits employers from being charged based on the gender make-up of their workforce.  The bill would also ban the insurance industry practice of rejecting applicants based on health status or history, which for example can prevent women with mental illness from getting health coverage.

This Senate bill is the first step in a long road ahead to reform our healthcare system.    It’s not going to be easy, health care has so many intricate parts to it and players that have a stake in it.  However hopefully this will be the year that we finally address an issue that’s not going away and continues to get worse as it puts more pressure on women to barely afford and maintain their health, and the health of their families.

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One Response to “Trying to tackle the healthcare giant for women”

  1. espressodog said

    I agree that the health care reform debate can be mind numbing but I don’t understand why some business groups seem to oppose every option out there. Doing nothing is not an option. The current health care system is failing women, families and small businesses. Reform is needed.

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