Bill seeks gender equity in insurance premiums

Mar 3, 2009

A state consumer advocate contemplates legislation to ban health insurers from charging women more than men for their coverage.


Miami Herald–March 1, 2009

The Florida Legislature this year may consider a bill to end one of the thorniest situations in healthcare — women paying more for health insurance than men.

Even when excluding coverage for childbirth, insurers selling individual policies generally charge women more than men of the same age. The insurance industry has long maintained they do that because women at most ages use more healthcare than do men.

Now, some are wondering if that’s fair pricing or gender discrimination. ”We’re certainly concerned about gender rating,” says Sean Shaw, the state’s insurance consumer advocate. He plans to support a bill banning such discrimination in health insurance. ”It’s just a matter of finding a sponsor” in the Legislature to introduce the bill.

Mark Wright of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida says the insurer’s surveys show younger women tend to spend more than men. “Among other things, women stay current on annual screenings, which tends to lead to better future health.”

That means ”women are more expensive in early ages and pay more for health insurance at that time,” Wright said in an e-mail. “Men are more expensive in later ages and that’s when their rates exceed those paid by women.”

A quick look at the Blue Cross website confirms that. For a basic $500 deductible policy without maternity coverage, a 30-year-old woman in Miami pays $291 a month, compared to $246 for a man the same age. A 60-year-old woman for that same plan pays $593, while the 60-year-old man pays $644.

Humana’s data too shows women usually pay more. ”Our claims, actuarial and utilization data show that women do use more healthcare than men, for healthcare services and medical treatments like labor/delivery, OB-GYN and preventive care ” says Humana spokesman Mitchell Lubitz.

Wright notes: ”If legislation was passed to ban gender rating, men would pay more for individual policies and women would pay less.” That could mean that some men might drop coverage, while some women might sign up for insurance.

Daniella Levine, head of the Human Services Coalition in Miami, acknowledges that there’s ”pretty transparent data” that show women spend more on healthcare, but she wonders if that by itself should mean their premiums should be higher.

”Creating equality of pricing may not be a bad thing,” because it would tend to encourage patients to seek preventive care, Levine said. “The incentives in the present pricing system have the perverse effect of penalizing people who seek preventive care.”