Health Insurers Offer To End Practice of Charging Women Higher Premiums for Individual Policies
[May 6, 2009]
Health insurers would be willing to end the practice of charging women higher premiums than men for individual insurance policies if the government agrees not to establish a public insurance plan, America's Health Insurance Plans President Karen Ignagni said Tuesday, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 5/6). Ignagni made the proposal at a Senate Finance Committee hearing that focused on ways to cover uninsured U.S. residents as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's health care system. President Obama and congressional Democrats support the creation of a government-run insurance program that would compete with private insurance plans.
About 9% of U.S. residents, including about 5.7 million women, are insured through individual policies. Unlike employer-sponsored plans, premiums for individual insurance policies typically charge women higher premiums than men (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Contra Costa Times, 5/5). Women in these plans can be charged 25% to 50% more than men for the same coverage, according to the Times. Insurers say the disparity results from women using more health care than men, especially during their childbearing years.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Tuesday introduced legislation (S. 969) that would prohibit insurers from considering gender when setting premium rates. Kerry said the premium disparity is "just plain wrong, and it has to change." Ignagni responded that she also believes that the practice "should be eliminated." AHIP's offer of ending the gender parity is the insurance industry's latest indication that it will be accepting of more federal regulation, the Times reports. In November 2008, insurers said they would accept all applicants, regardless of illness or disability, if Congress mandates coverage for all U.S. residents. Last month, the industry proposed to end the practice of charging higher premiums to sick people (New York Times, 5/6).
Wait wouldn't we all have equal "premiums" under a public option sort of automatically?