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Friday, April 6, 2012

Closing the health insurance gender gap

End Health Insurance Discrimination Against Women – NOW
By State Rep. Donna Walsh (District 36)

When a woman in Rhode Island needs to buy an individual health insurance policy, she’s going to be in for some sticker shock – and not just because insurance, in general, is expensive.

Insurance companies use a pricing scheme called “gender rating” which sets different rates for men and women within the same age group and for the same coverage.

For example, if a 25 year old woman and a 25 year old man want to buy Blue Cross-Blue Shield’s HealthMate Direct coverage, the man will be charged $170.81 a month and the woman will be charged $244.68. The young woman will be charged over 43% more simply because she is a woman.

If a 40-year old woman is in the market to buy that same coverage, Blue Cross will charge her $315.54 a month. But if a 40-year old man looks to buy the same coverage, Blue Cross’s price to him is $237.99. The “gender rating” tacks 33% onto the health insurance bill for the woman.

This practice is wrong and, under federal law, it will be banned nationwide in 2014 under the federal Affordable Care Act.

But I have introduced Rhode Island House Bill 7151 because I do not believe Rhode Island woman should have to suffer the injustice in our state while we wait for the federal ban on gender discrimination to take effect. Plus, with the fate of the federal Affordable Health Care law now in the hands of an unpredictable U.S. Supreme Court, we cannot be certain about the fate of that law.

For over thirty years, gender discrimination has been banned in employer-sponsored health insurance programs. The U.S. Supreme Court applied the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to health insurance and its requirement that “employers treat their employees as individuals, not as simply components of a racial, religious, sexual or national class.”

However, through “gender rating,” such discrimination still exists when it comes to health insurance coverage bought by individuals.

The insurance industry’s defense of this practice is, at best, weak. They say that ending “gender rating” will cause a cost shift. To equalize the rates between men and women, men’s rates may go up while women’s rates will go down.

Insurers have argued that this may lead men to engage in “adverse selection” which is another way of saying men might drop their coverage if they think they are not getting value for their money. However, the industry does not have the data to back this claim up.

Under the existing system of gender discrimination, there IS data to show that women are more likely to need individual health insurance coverage than men.

Sixteen states in the union have already taken action to curb “gender rating.” Ten states have imposed a total ban on gender rating in the individual health insurance market and two more have partial bans. Ten of those states have already enacted into law the kind of direct ban on gender rating in the individual health insurance market that I propose in H-7151.

At the hearing on H-7151 held a month ago, my bill received the endorsement and strong support of the ACLU, the Rhode Island Coalition against Domestic Violence, National Association of Social Workers, the RI Association of Teachers and Health Professionals, Ocean State Action, RI National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island.

H-7151 is currently being held for further study in the House Corporations Committee. I intend to do all I can to ensure that this bill will emerge from Committee and complete the legislative process so it can be signed by the Governor and enacted into law.

You can help by contacting your own state representative, and by letting Speaker of the House Gordon Fox and House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello know you want health insurance discrimination to end now.

Once signed by Governor Chafee, the provisions of H-5171 will go into effect immediately, ending the shameful discrimination against women who seek to buy individual health insurance in Rhode Island.