Do Women Pay More For Health Insurance Than Men?

Syndicated

Did you know that women pay up to 31 percent more for insurance than men? And, not because they have more "complicated" health care needs. I'm talking about apples-to-apples coverage unrelated to, say, pregnancy.

According to a comprehensive national report, Turning to Fairness, released by the National Women's Law Center and covered in the New York Times, a 30-year-old woman will pay 31 percent more than a man the same age, for identical coverage. For 25-year-old women the gap is even more shocking: for individual healthcare plans (not including maternity coverage) women are charged up to 84 percent more than men.


Photo by Rochelle Hartman. (Flickr)

Insurance companies practice gender rating defined by the study as:

the practice of charging same-aged women and men different premiums for identical health coverage; exclusions of coverage that only women need, like maternity care; and rejecting applicants for insurance coverage for reasons that include status as a survivor of domestic violence.

Insurance benefits are androcentric -- which makes being a woman an "exception" to basic benefits and services. Having a woman's body and female health care needs is, for all practical and fiduciary purposes, considered a "pre-existing condition" like, say, cancer. The cost gap exists because they are women and discriminated against.

The gap varies from state to state, but it exists pervasively across the country and applies in differing but substantively equal ways to large, group and individual insurance coverage. The gap is clearly unrelated to additional costs tied to "exceptional" things like reproductive and maternity related care. In aggregate terms, the gender gap means women are spending $1 billion a year more than men on insurance plans. Ready to burn your thong yet?

I don't know about you, but I'm not comfortable being considered an "exception" to a "standard" that means I'm paying more for insurance because my biologically-based healthcare needs are considered a "pre-existing condition." Women pay more for insurance for no other reason than because they are not men.

Gee -- some insurance executive "expressed surprise at the size and prevalence of the disparities" a few years ago when a 2008 report that reached the same conclusions surfaced. Apparently they weren't surprised enough to do anything about it. These executives, by failing to rectify clearly discriminatory policies despite years of awareness, continue to demonstrate their untrustworthiness.

Which brings us to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). PPACA ensures that means women will have basic access to the healthcare that is relevant to their bodies and specific needs. The act makes gender rating, and discriminatory pricing, illegal starting in 2014. The act ensures that preventative care specific to women and their bodies -- including birth control, annual exams, and screens -- are covered and that gender ratings are not allowable.

But, until then -- for two more years, none of that is assured.

The openly stated primary priority of the Republican Party is to overturn this law. For the life of me, I cannot understand why any woman or a man who cares for the women around him, can vote to elect people who will overturn this act. Women in particular who vote for representatives dedicated to overturning the act are acting against their own interest in fundamental ways.

Last time I checked, women make up the majority of the species and having a uterus and ova and mammary glands isn't really that exceptional at all. Except when it comes to things like paying for insurance coverage it seems. Oh, and getting paid fairly. Sorry. Thanks for playing though.

Consider these aspects of insurance coverage, which took me aback when I first learned of them and how the Affordable Care Act provides redress for what are clearly gender-biased practices. The Act:

prohibits women from being denied coverage for having "pre-existing conditions" like pregnancies, past C-sections, breast or cervical cancer, or treatment for domestic or sexual violence.

Putting aside the issue for the moment of cancer, yes, having been pregnant, having had a C-section and having been a victim of domestic violence are "pre-existing conditions" currently used by insurance companies to not insure women.

By the terms of the Act, "maternity and newborn care are included as essential benefits in health plans, and services like annual mammograms, cancer screenings, prenatal screenings are now provided with no additional costs to women and girls."

Yes, to date and until 2014, being a woman -- with reproductive needs that are different but equally relevant as men's -- is a "pre-existing condition" that results in women paying even more (in addition to the baseline gender payment gap described above) to get coverage for basic female-health related services.

If the Act is overturned, these practices will continue. If you have any doubts about health care reform and why it is essential for women you should consider this one simple fact: that being a woman means you are discriminated against in multi-dimensional ways when it comes to insurance. If you are a representative voting against this Act or electing officials who will overturn it, you are:

  1. Voting to accept the male body and its needs as fundamentally human in a way that a woman's is not
  2. Voting to perpetuate the idea that the male body is the standard baseline for healthcare, when it excludes half the population -- making women the "exception"
  3. You are ensuring that the health care needs of girls and women will not be adequately and equally met and we will all continue to pay in more ways than one for this discriminatory assessment.

In a perfect world, the insurance companies would have already self-corrected and proved in good faith that they would not discriminate on the basis of gender. But, that hasn't happened and I have very little faith that it ever would without this Act.

The study also found that the vast majority of individual health care plans, which many women rely on, do not cover services related to pregnancy and other maternity-related services. In addition, to higher premiums and a denial of provisions for basic female reproductive health care ('cause, you know, not having a penis makes every woman an exception), in some states insurers can legally reject coverage -- get this -- to women who are survivors of domestic abuse. If you live in Oklahoma, North Dakota, Mississippi or North Carolina and you are the victim of abuse, an insurance company can still deny you coverage on the basis of that fact.

The National Women’s Law Center, along with 30 other groups, has launched the "I Will NOT be Denied" campaign to educate women about this issue. Get informed!

*Variations on the persistent and ubiquitous gap exist from state to state. Only these 12 states have banned any type of gender rating by insurance companies for the small group market: California, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Washington. Only ONE state bans insurers from using gender as the basis for any type (large, small group, individual) of rating: Montana. I want to openly salute that state for its recognition of women as fully unexceptional human beings with health needs that they should not pay "extra" by virtue of their gender.

Soraya Chemaly writes about feminism, gender issues, politics and culture. She has written for The Feminist Wire, BitchFlicks and Fem2.0 among others and has a regular column at The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @schemaly.

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