The Other Healthcare Disparity

Women pay more for health insurance coverage than men do. Conventional wisdom says that childbearing and higher utilization of medical services justify the difference. A recent study by the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) challenges that assertion. 

When all else is equal and maternity benefits are excluded, women still pay more for health insurance coverage. A 40-year-old woman's monthly premiums can range from 4 to 48 percent higher than those paid by a 40-year-old man with identical coverage.  
Within each state, the additional premium cost for women can vary widely. For example, the difference women in Little Rock, Arkansas, pay for the best-selling health plans can range from 13 to 63 percent. If the costs were based solely on gender rating, they would be more consistent. NWLC suspects gender bias.
In the group insurance market, women are better protected from higher costs. However, in the individual insurance market they often face difficulty in finding maternity coverage. If they do, they are subject to exorbitant premiums and/or out-of-pocket costs. Otherwise, they are priced out of health insurance and are relegated to the ranks of the uninsured. Women who need individual coverage tend to work at low-paying jobs and may be heads of households. They need help. Eliminating gender rating could be a first step in the right direction. Maine, Montana and New York already prohibit gender-based rates.
Currently, approximately ten states have some provision for limiting gender rating. Our state-by-state approach to regulating health insurance enables inefficiencies and inequities to continue. As the Obama administration takes on healthcare reform, I would hope for a plan that addresses disparities for all citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status, race—and gender.
—Tom DeSanto
Image from Wikimedia Commons  

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