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Study: Insurance Companies Treat IA Women Like a Pre-Existing Condition

October 21, 2009

DES MOINES, Iowa - Being a woman is hardly a shopping advantage when it comes to health coverage. A new study from the National Women's Law Center finds health insurers often treat being female like a pre-existing condition, setting premium prices much higher for women in states that don't have laws against the practice known as gender rating.

Iowa is among the states that do not prohibit gender rating. NWLC Co-president Marcia Greenberger says insurance price differences cannot be explained by industry claims that pregnancy is the reason women are charged so much more. Her group is calling for nationwide standards to stop the practice, as part of health care reform efforts.

"The discrimination is so pronounced. Some women are charged up to a stunning 84 percent more than men for individual health plans that exclude maternity coverage."

Gender-based price discrimination also happens in the group insurance market, adds Greenberger, which affects businesses that offer workplace coverage. The NWLC research found that men are affected, too, with some companies charging males more than females once they reach age 55.

Insurance companies say prices for their policies are based on risks, and that both gender and age affect a person's potential health risks. Based on the study results, however, Greenberger doesn't buy the risk-rationale line from insurers.

"In most states, in the individual insurance market, women who do not smoke are often charged more than men who do smoke, simply because they are women."

The report also found survivors of rape or domestic violence are likely to be denied individual market coverage for several years after the crime, unless a state law prohibits the discrimination. In Greenberger's view, that is another national standard that Congress should consider in the health care reform debate.

The full report, "Still Nowhere to Turn," is available online at www.nwlc.org.

Dick Layman, Public News Service - IA