Until Affordable Care Act Comes Into Full Effect, Women Still Pay More for Health Care


Imagine that your name is Jill and you work at a company called Pails USA with a male employee named Jack. You and Jack are both 25 years old, healthy and single. You purchase the same insurance plan as Jack, but your premium is three times as much as his — simply because you are a woman.

This practice, known as "gender rating," occurs when insurance compa­nies charge men and women different premiums for the same individually purchased health care plans. And according to a new report issued this week by the National Women’s Law Center, in states that have not banned the practice, more than 90% of the best-selling health plans charge women more than men.

President Barack Obama’s health care proposal — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — contains some soulutions to this problem. One of them is that by 2014, all health insurance providers must stop pricing women differently. So far, though, in the vast majority of states, insurance providers are still taking more money out of the pockets of their female policy holders.

The National Women’s Law Center report finds that women pay $1 billion more annually in health insurance costs. This is a significant problem for women, especially since they are more likely than men to need health care throughout their lifetimes and earn on average less than men.

Women's reproductive health (regardless of whether they have children) requires regular check-ups, as screenings and early detection can help prevent deadly and expensive diseases afflicting women today, such as breast cancer. But Women also earn approxi­mately $0.77 for every dollar that men earn. These two factors — higher costs and lower income— have left many women with unpaid medical bills and accumulating debt.

According to an article posted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), in 2007, “more than half (52%) of women reported problems accessing necessary care because of cost, and 45% of women accrued medical debt or reported problems with medical bills.”

These challenges leave women particularly vulnerable to gaps in coverage, the consequences of which can be devastating, particularly for women who are expecting. Studies find that when pregnant women are uninsured, they are considerably less likely to get proper prenatal care. This can lead to long term health effects for the mother and the child. Consistent, early, and regular check-ups during pregnancy can reduce birth defects and other complications.

Under the new health care law, policies will be required to cover maternity care as an "essential health benefit" and health care plans will be prohibited from turning away applicants because of pregnancy and previous Caesarean sections.

These are good policies, but these changes won’t take effect for another two years. Women need access to affordable, high-quality health care now — so until 2014, it pays to shop around for the best insurance.

The government's healthcare website offers a comparison and locator tool and eHealthInsurance.com offers other resources to check health care costs.

Photo Credit: UMF2011