Thursday, October 30, 2008

NYT: Women pay more for same health insurance

From the NYT:

Women Buying Health Policies Pay a Penalty

It has been found that women could be charged as much as 31 percent more than men when buying the same health care plan. With more and more deregulation of health care, more individuals have to shop around for plans offered by private insurance companies, who are free to set up their own standards for pricing. Justifications for charging women more include childbearing-related issues and higher frequency of going in for regular checkups.

“Women often fare worse than men in the individual insurance market,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee.

Insurers say they have a sound reason for charging different premiums: Women ages 19 to 55 tend to cost more than men because they typically use more health care, especially in the childbearing years.

But women still pay more than men for insurance that does not cover maternity care. In the individual market, maternity coverage may be offered as an optional benefit, or rider, for a hefty additional premium.

Crystal D. Kilpatrick, a healthy 33-year-old real estate agent in Austin, Tex., said: “I’ve delayed having a baby because my insurance policy does not cover maternity care. If I have a baby, I’ll have to pay at least $8,000 out of pocket.”

In general, insurers say, they charge women more than men of the same age because claims experience shows that women use more health care services. They are more likely to visit doctors, to get regular checkups, to take prescription medications and to have certain chronic illnesses.

Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group that has examined hundreds of individual policies, said: “The wide variation in premiums could not possibly be justified by actuarial principles. We should not tolerate women having to pay more for health insurance, just as we do not tolerate the practice of using race as a factor in setting rates.”

This is akin to employers who will deny a woman a promotion or a critical job position because they perceive a potential for her to go on maternity leave or to leave the job completely. In addition to being discriminatory, this practice also does not reflect the real impacts of differential use of medical services. Other than for maternity issues, I predict that men tend to have more need for acute treatment because they tend to not be as regular about periodic screenings and checkups as women, and that would be more expensive or at least a wash in the long run.

Once again, a focus purely on profits is getting in the way of fairly providing services to human beings.

No comments: