This post is part of a weekly series on Women and Health Reform.
This morning’s New York Times article by Robert Pear highlights the challenges women face in the individual market as identified in our recent report, Nowhere to Turn: How the Individual Health Insurance Market Fails Women. In our report, we document the fact that women attempting to buy health insurance on the individual market often face higher premiums and fewer options for comprehensive and affordable coverage than their male counterparts. And in this economic and political climate, with employees facing layoffs and politicians emphasizing the use of the individual market as a “fix” to our health care crisis, this puts women in grave risk of not receiving the quality health care they need.
The NYT article explains the discrepancy in prices between men and women as actuarially justified, that is, as a result of women’s higher health care costs. In particular, health insurance companies point to women’s maternity care as a reason why prices for women are inflated. But, then why is it that out of the 347 gender-rated, best-selling individual market plans we looked at on eHealthinsurance.com, only 6% include maternity coverage? A senior VP at Humana argued that higher premiums are justified even if maternity coverage is excluded, because “Bearing children increases other health risks later in life, such as urinary incontinence, which may require treatment with medication or surgery.” So, women should pay more for health insurance coverage because they might get pregnant and the pregnancy might cause urinary incontinence that might require surgery? How absurd!
Some comments to the NYT article contend that it’s fair for women to pay more for health insurance because men routinely pay more for car insurance. We’re not saying gender rating for car insurance is fair, either. But according to recent research, 22,000 adults died in 2006 because they lacked health insurance. No one dies because they cannot buy car insurance.
We encourage you to visit our site to learn more about our report. You can also contact your Members of Congress to encourage them to stop allowing discriminatory practices in health insurance. It’s just like Rep. Xavier Becerra from California says, “'If men could have kids,' such disparities would probably not exist.”