On May 6, 2009 Senator John Kerry introduced the Women’s Health Insurance Fairness Act.
The legislation would prevent insurers in the individual market from
charging more, denying or limiting coverage based on gender or
pregnancy and would require maternity coverage.
The legislation was inspired by a report published by the National Women’s Law Center titled Nowhere to Turn: How the Individual Health Insurance Market Fails Women.
The report finds that women are often charged higher premiums than men
and have difficulty finding comprehensive and affordable maternity
coverage. In addition, insurance companies can reject applicants for
reasons that disproportionately impact women, such as being a survivor
of domestic violence or having previously undergone a C-section.
5.7 million American women are forced to buy coverage in the
individual insurance market (those who receive coverage through their
employer are already protected under laws that prevent charging
different premiums and refusing maternity coverage). Right now these
women are reliant on state regulation of the individual market, but
very few states provide protections against gender-based discrimination
in insurance coverage.
The new legislation would make it illegal for companies offering
health insurance in the individual market to consider gender when
determining an applicant’s premiums. Companies could not limit or deny
coverage in any way based on a past or future pregnancy, method of
delivery, or pregnancy outcome. The Secretary of Health and Human
Services (HHS) would be directed to create a minimum benefit standard
for maternity care that requires coverage of all maternity services.
Failure of companies to comply could result in a minimum fine of
The new HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, has a history of fighting
against gender discrimination in the individual insurance market and
for mandated maternity coverage.
The Women’s Health Insurance Fairness Act would create real
substantive improvements in the lives of women who do not receive
health insurance through an employer. It responds to a problem that
exists at the intersection of class, reproductive and gender-based
oppression and therefore deserves the support of all of us in the
reproductive justice movement.
This legislation is part of the growing effort to reform health care
in the US. The early focus on gender discrimination and maternity care,
a vital aspect of any comprehensive approach to reproductive health, is
especially encouraging. As a Massachusetts voter I am especially proud
of Senator Kerry today.
The legislation is currently in the Senate Health, Education, Labor,
and Pensions committee, chaired by Senator Kennedy, a long time health
care advocate (and another Massachusetts senator).
You can thank Senator Kerry for standing up for women’s health by calling his DC offices at (202) 224-2742 or emailing him via this form.
Cross posted at Choice Words.