The Cost of Being a Woman

According to a 2004 study of the lifetime distribution of health care costs, the per-capita lifetime expenditure for women is one-third higher than for men; $361,200 and $268,700, respectively. And that's for those with insurance. (The study used data from 3.75 million Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members, among other sources.) This discrepency is something many insurance companies have kept in mind when evaluating prospective customers. Many exclude women from essential coverage or charge women higher prices for the same coverage as men. According to a recent New York Times article, the health care reform bill will help change some of the most discriminatory practices against women:

Until now, it has been perfectly legal in most states for companies selling individual health policies — for people who do not have group coverage through employers — to engage in “gender rating,” that is, charging women more than men for the same coverage, even for policies that do not include maternity care. The rationale was that women used the health care system more than men. But some companies charged women who did not smoke more than men who did, even though smokers have more risks. The differences in premiums, from 4 percent to 48 percent, according to a 2008 analysis by the law center, can add up to hundreds of dollars a year. The individual market is the one that many people turn to when they lose their jobs and their group coverage. ... In addition, individual policies often excluded maternity coverage, or charged much more for it. Now, gender rating is essentially outlawed, and policies must include maternity coverage, considered “an essential health benefit.”

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Under the old insurance policies, the women most in need were among those most vulnerable:

Advocates for women’s health said one of the new law’s benefits would be to ban the denial of health coverage to women who have had a prior Caesarean section or been victims of domestic violence. Some companies providing individual policies have refused coverage in those circumstances, regarding Caesareans or beatings as pre-existing conditions that were likely to be predictors of higher expenses in the future.

In a statement issued Thursday, Senator Mikulski said: “One of my hearings revealed that a woman was denied coverage because she had a baby with a medically mandated C-section. When she tried to get insurance coverage with another company, she was told she had to be sterilized in order to get health insurance. That will never, ever happen again because of what we did here with health care reform.”

By keeping these costs down we ensure that the health-care-related costs of pregnancies won't weigh too heavily on families. Guaranteeing maternity care is not just a benefit for soon-to-be mothers but their unborn children, as well.

Kerry Weber

 

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