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Women and Health Insurance: No More Discrimination

May 17, 2010

BISMARCK, N.D. - Women in North Dakota and across the nation will no longer be treated differently when it comes to health insurance. Under the new health care reform law, insurance companies are no longer allowed to discriminate based on sex, and Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, says it's a big gain for women. She compares that part of the law to other non-discrimination wins in civil rights and education and for people with disabilities.

"That clause, which is a non-discrimination clause, is far-reaching. There are so many different ways that we were discriminated against."

Smeal says insurance companies had long been allowed to price policies for women higher and exclude coverage, such as maternity, because federal regulation had not been in place. With the non-discrimination clause, that changes.

Insurance companies have long claimed that women's coverage should be more expensive or restricted because their health expenses are higher. Smeal points out that research presented to Congress showed that wasn't true, and in fact, because men are more likely to suffer heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases, their overall care can be far more expensive.

Veronica Bayetti Flores, senior policy analyst with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, agrees that discrimination based on sex is coming to an end. But she says discrimination based on race or ethnicity is still a concern. Even though health insurance will be available for almost everyone to purchase, buying power is not equal.

"Women are getting paid less than men are. Women of color make less money than do white women. So, it's not going to get at total elimination of disparities with insurance."

Dick Layman, Public News Service - ND