Senate Bill Would End Gender Bias in Healthcare Premium Costs

America’s Health Care Plan Agrees the Practice Should Be Eliminated
U.S. Senator John Kerry introduced a bill this week that would end the insurance company practice of charging women as much as 50 percent higher premiums then men, reports UPI – “Health Insurers Agree to End Gender Bias.” The move could affect as many as 5.7 million women who are not covered by employer-sponsored plans but purchase individual coverage.

“The disparity between women and men in the individual marketplace is just plain wrong, and it has to change,” said Sen. Kerry. Testifying for the industry, Karen Ignagni of America’s Health Insurance Plan agreed that the industry should eliminate the practice.

The Associated Press took a more cynical view of insurer acquiescence. “Health Insurers Offer to Lower Rates for Women,” http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-fi-insure-women6-2009may06,0,1110808.story?track=rss/. “The industry is trying to head off creation of a government health plan,” the article reported, “that would compete with companies to enroll middle class workers and their families.” Insurers fear of a government plan would ruin their business, and the industry is doing everything it can to prevent a public system.

That means that insurers are doing an “about-face” on financial positions they have insisted for years are necessary to keep them solvent. Such positions include charging women age 19 to 55 higher premiums because they are “more likely then men to have higher healthcare costs due to childbearing, a proclivity toward certain chronic illnesses and more routine healthcare habits.” In March, the industry agreed to stop charging sick people higher rates if the federal government required all citizens to have health insurance.

Whether or not the federal government is able to pass a public healthcare agenda, healthcare reforms that benefit women and the disabled are long overdue. Insurers subject illnesses that predominately affect women, such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, lupus, anorexia nervosa and bulimia (to name a few) to a double standard: If you are a woman who might suffer from one of these diseases, you get charged more on the front end in premium costs. But if and when you are diagnosed with one of these conditions, insurers routinely deny benefits when they are needed, or worse, cancel the insurance.

To quote Sen. Kerry, that is “just plain wrong.”

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