Raising Women’s Voices

Women and the Individual Health Insurance Market: It’s No Shopper’s Paradise

Posted in Uncategorized by raisingwomensvoices on October 9, 2008

By Lisa Codispoti, Senior Advisor
and Brigette Courtot, Policy Analyst
National Women’s Law Center

“The overwhelming majority of people get their health insurance from an employer or through a public program like Medicare or Medicaid. So it’s not surprising that most people have absolutely no idea how tough it is to buy insurance directly from an insurance company in the individual insurance market. And for women –- it is a particularly tough place.

At the National Women’s Law Center, we just released a report identifying the many obstacles women face in getting affordable comprehensive health coverage in the individual insurance market. The barriers include being rejected for coverage for reasons that are relevant to women, being charged more than men for the exact same coverage, and experiencing great difficulty in finding affordable health coverage that includes comprehensive maternity care.

There are many federal laws that protect women who get their health insurance through their employer.  Those federal protections simply don’t apply when you try to buy coverage in the individual insurance market.

Insurers can reject applicants for a variety of reasons -– many very relevant to women.  For example, a woman can be rejected simply because she had a Caesarean section (in 2005, 30% of all births were by C-section). In nine states and the District of Columbia, it is still legal to be rejected for coverage because you are a survivor of domestic violence.

Women are often charged higher premiums than men -– for the exact same health coverage. NWLC found that in 40 states and the District of Columbia, it is legal for insurers to charge women and men different insurance premiums for the same health coverage, under a common industry practice called gender rating.  Our findings raise real questions about how arbitrary gender-rating is in practice. In the worst case, for instance, we found an insurance plan in Missouri that charged 40-year-old women 140 percent more than same-aged men for identical health insurance policies. Yep, you read that correctly –- 140 percent more, solely because of gender! To be fair, we did find that beginning at age 55, some insurers actually charge men more than women. But at least half of the plans we reviewed still charged women more than men even after age 55; once again, the variations we found raise questions about how arbitrary this practice really is…”
This post is part of a weekly series on Women and Health Reform.
For Full Report: http://www.kff.org/womenshealth/index.cfm

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