New findings suggest that women are paying much higher prices for individual health insurance plans than men, according to a New York Times article . Across the U.S., women are paying 30-50% more than men for health insurance every month. When questioned, insurance companies claim that since women are more likely to use medical services like checkups and prescription medicine, the rates reflect the higher usage rates. Women are getting charged higher prices because of state insurance laws which require insurance companies to cover pregnancy complications even if they do not cover maternity care.
These sex-based price disparities in job-based insurance coverage are illegal under the Equal Opportunity Commission which says “employers cannot charge higher premiums to women than to men for the same benefits, even if women as a class are more expensive.”
Higher prices affect all women who are forced to spend more money simply because they can bear children. Many women who were planning to have children are unable to due to the enormous costs associated with maternal care. Low income women are especially affected as they cannot find affordable coverage and often times must pay enormous amounts of money out of pocket. Higher prices mean more women are not receiving adequate health care, as opposed to men who have significantly more affordable health care premiums. In the New York Times article, the insurance superintendant of Maine, Mila Koffman, expresses her belief that women should not be singled out.
There’s a strong public policy reason to prohibit gender-based rates. Only women can bear children. There’s an expense to that. But having babies benefits communities and society as a whole. Women should not have to bear the entire expense.
There is a serious need for reforming these often discriminatory and unstable insurance policies that continue to marginalize women who already encounter obstacles to obtaining basic health rights- these injustices should not be tolerated. As 2009 begins, it can only be hoped that our new President Obama, symbolizing change and equality for all, will follow through on his progressive plans on health insurance and be mindful of those who are struggling every day as a result of draconian policies which exclude the voice of women in our country.
Women of color in our communities need a unified and committed voice to represent our unique experience as we have continuously been excluded from attaining equal rights and opportunities. We are often unjustly left out of the dominant discourse which shapes policy-making in the U.S., in domains from educational equity to access to health care among so many others. As an organization dedicated to promoting social justice for Latinas and underrepresented women, NLIRH’s is a powerfully committed voice for women which will continue to challenge and question the unfair disparities which affect women of color, and successfully provide the means for changing structural inequalities through community outreach, mobilization and empowerment.
Contributed by Karen Velasquez, Research Intern