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

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October 21, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio - 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.

Ohio is one state that does 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."

Getting coverage for reproductive health is another hurdle for women, according to Gary Dougherty, state legislative director for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio. He says insurance companies often either don't cover contraceptives at all, or price coverage differently than other prescriptions.

"We have heard that if they offer birth control under their coverage, sometimes it is at a different, and higher, co-pay."

Gender-based price discrimination also happens in the group insurance market, 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.

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 as members debate health care reform.

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

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH