Insurance Companies Tell Congress: You Sell Us Your Soul, We’ll End Discrimination

How do we end insurance company
discrimination against women? 

Simple. Insurance companies
think such practices are wrong and would gladly end them, said Karen
Ignagni, President and Chief Executive Officer of America’s Health
Insurance Plans, in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee this

But, it seems there is a catch,
or two. First, Congress has to require that every American have health
insurance. Second, lawmakers must promise not to give private health
insurance plans any competition by creating a government-sponsored health
insurance option that might be cheaper and fairer. 

Of course, Ignagni wasn’t
quite that blatant about it. But, the message was pretty clear: the
insurance industry is so desperate to avoid competition from a proposed
public insurance plan that it will pledge to do away with a number of
longstanding, and outrageous, business practices.

"Gender rating" in health

As a recent report from the
National Women’s Law Center
explains, private insurance companies
often charge women higher premiums than men in what is known
as the individual health insurance market. This is where women end up
if they want health insurance, but aren’t lucky enough to have access to it through an employer or union, and are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare.
Almost six million women in this country have been forced to buy individual
insurance policies, often with extremely expensive premiums and poor

The practice of charging women
more than men is known as "gender rating." Historically, insurers
have justified it by citing women’s higher use of health care services,
such as for maternity care, compared to men. If you might use more health
care, you have to pay more, the insurers declare. They have similar
practices for other groups of people who tend to use more than an average
amount of health care. For example, older people may be charged more
than younger people through a practice referred to as "age rating."
These practices are prohibited in some states, but allowed in many.  

Massachusetts Senator John
Kerry has introduced legislation called the Women’s Health Insurance
Fairness Act that would prohibit insurers from charging women more than
men for individual health insurance. It would also require insurers
to provide maternity coverage, and stop insurers from refusing or limiting
coverage based on whether a woman is pregnant.  

Let’s make a deal

Faced with this legislation,
and with general public outrage about a number of insurance company
practices – including refusing coverage for "pre-existing conditions"
– America’s Health Insurance Plans are scrambling to offer Congress
a deal.  

They will agree to do away
with gender rating and other unpopular insurance company policies if
Congress enacts a health reform plan that does two key things: 1) Impose
a mandate on every American to have health insurance; and 2) Drop the
idea of creating a public plan option that would compete with private
health insurers.  

So, the insurance industry
CEO, Karen Ignagni, was all sweetness and agreeability on Capitol Hill
in a Senate hearing this week, when Senator Kerry pressed her on the
subject of gender rating. "Gender rating is a pretty common insurance
practice and women are charged higher premiums than men for identical
coverage," Kerry said. "So it seems to me that’s insurance discrimination." 

Ignagni readily agreed, saying
insurers already have proposals to do away with it: "We don’t believe
that gender should be a subject of rating," she said. "In our reforms,
we have not recommended that (it) be continued."

National Women’s Law Center
Co-President Marcia Greenberger rightly was delighted with this turnabout:
"Fortunately, the insurance industry finally came around to the unfairness
of charging women more for health insurance, and it’s about time,"
she said in a press release. "For too long, gender rating
has caused hardship to many thousands of women, who have either had
to forgo health insurance altogether, or sacrifice to cover the extra
premium cost."  

But, notice that Ignagni
did not
announce that the insurance industry would move to immediately
drop this discriminatory policy, which they could do tomorrow. Instead,
they are offering to accept stricter regulation of the private insurance
industry in exchange for having the public plan option dropped. And,
they would love to have a mandate requiring all Americans to get health
insurance, as is the case in Massachusetts now under that state’s
reform plan, since, absent a public option, Americans would then be forced to purchase it from the insurers. 

This kind of a trade-off would
be a bad deal for women, and a bad deal for all Americans. Ending discrimination
against women should not be contingent on giving private health insurance
companies a monopoly to sell us high-priced health coverage. Gender
rating can and should be ended as soon as possible, either by the insurance
companies themselves or through enactment of Kerry’s legislation.  

The public plan option is a
good idea, and should be explored fully by Congressional committees
working on health reform legislation. As President Obama has suggested,
a little competition from a public plan might be just what we need –
and give women now struggling to afford individual health insurance
a much better alternative.  

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  • invalid-0

    What exactly is wrong with charging people more for something they use more of? Young men get into more accidents with cars and therefore use more insurance and are therefore charged higher premiums than women of the same age. Is the obvious logic difficult to deal with?

    • petty

      yes it’s true. let’ stop discriminating it.

  • invalid-0

    Many car insurance policies do not come with medical payments coverage, thus if a young man were in a car wreck (w/o medpay), his health insurance company is on the hook for his treatment costs related to the injuries, unless he sues, recovers damages from the responsible party (assuming he isn’t at fault) and the insurance company gets reimbursed. Under Georgia law, the injured person would have to be completely compensated for his injuries prior to reimbursing the health insurer.

    Health insurers are con artists- people who carry major medical and pay out of pocket for regular doctor’s appointments pay a much higher rate for the same treatment from the same provider b/c the insurance companies have so much bargaining power that they can demand and get much lower rates. Recently, my husband, who is a primary care doctor had to spend a few hours writing an appeal to BCBS to justify his rates for an office visit that they did not want to pay for. It is ridiculous sometimes.

  • invalid-0

    and I do not pay more for in office Dr.appointments. In fact when I tell them they charge me less than if I had insurance. You have to talk to your doctor they try and help any way they can I have found. Even with meds you can get samples and generics. The doctors charge the insurance companies more because they can get more!

  • invalid-0

    We’re all in this together. A large part of why women are charged higher premiums is due to the costs associated with child birth and birth control, which involves men’s bodies, too. The health of women is also associated with the health of future generations (e.g. protects against infant mortality and poor infant health). And even women who choose not to bear children or use birth control will be charged more–just because they are women. Women should not have to pay more due to their biological make-up.

    And, to my mind, car ownership is not exactly a rights issue. Men and young people are welcome to organize against gender- and age-based car insurance premiums, too. Why not? One unfair practice doesn’t make another one “just.” What sad, defeatist logic.

    • invalid-0

      Its house should be the main centre of a life of any person. This place where children grow – grow physically, strengthen the health and absorb in itself everything, that will make their true both noble men and women. And on the woman this cargo lays… And our men want also this prerogative at us to select. It is necessary to struggle for the rights! In the house where children grow, all their environment and everything, that occurs, influences them, and even the smallest detail can render fine or harmful influence. Even the nature round them forms the future character. All fine, that see children’s eyes, is printed in their sensitive hearts. Wherever the child was brought up, impressions of a place where it grew affect its character. Rooms in which our children will sleep, play, live, we should make so beautiful, means how much allow. Children love pictures and if pictures in the house pure and good it is wonderful on them influence, do them more gracefully. But also the house, pure, with taste cleaned, with simple ornaments and with a pleasant surrounding kind, makes invaluable impact on education of children.

  • colleen

    The problem, of course, is that the ‘logic’ of the business model you describe is one which makes the insurance industry the worst possible choice for managing healthcare.

    It’s the only industry so corrupt that every state in the union has it’s own elected commissioner whose (theoretical) task it is to force them to comply with existing contracts and not fuck over the public too much. 




  • invalid-0

    And, to my mind, car ownership is not exactly a rights issue. Men and young people are welcome to organize against gender- and age-based car insurance premiums, too. Why not? One unfair practice doesn’t make another one “just.” What sad, defeatist logic.

    And yet, they keep on using this one ALL the time.
    And a couple other classic “It’s just easier to keep women down – financially, socially, etc.!” Why DO we silly women want to be treated like human beings with full rights like the other half anyway? tsk tsk!
    Owning a car will never be comparable to having a human body – it just won’t. You don’t get to choose your body (the inner parts anyway – what others can see on the outside is up for debate).

  • trybpo

    I’m not so sure I have a problem with this..

    While it is clearly discrimiating men vs. women, aren’t there certain situations where that is appropriate?  When looking at the data in the tables that points towards women costing more than men, it would make sense that the premiums for women are higher than those for men.

    If I had terminal cancer and went to purchase a life insurance policy, I would have to understand that either I would not be approved or that my premiums would be through the roof and probably not worth it.  It’s not my FAULT that I have terminal cancer necessarily and it’s definitely descriminatory, but it seems a reasonable thing to me.


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  • invalid-0

    We’ve compared rates among women drivers and found that car insurance premiums, are actually cheaper than they are for men. We’re not sure about other types of insurance, but just thought your visitors know that women, are often, safer and better drivers which is why insurance companies reward them with lower car insurance premiums.

    CIQ provides free car Insurance
    comparisons to both men and women located throughout the United States.

  • invalid-0

    Women only want fairness and equality when it benefits them. Otherwise, they want to be subsidized financially, emotionally, mentally, socially and in every other area. The big feminist lie has been exposed for along time now. If women want to be thought of and treated equally, then they need to stop trying to extract subsidies from society. When it comes to health care, obviously women should and do pay more (probably less than they should) because they are the largest users and exploiters of the health care system.

  • therealistmom

    Or has mommy hating issues. There’s got to be SOME kind of underlying psychological issue to hate women this much.

  • invalid-0

    If women want to be thought of and treated equally, then they need to stop trying to extract subsidies from society.

  • invalid-0

    The insurance companies do discriminate against women. When I was trying to buy insurance for my family and they would not insure my because I could still have children. How ridiculous! I could not believe it! This should be against the law.

    • crowepps

      Does it strike anyone else as illogical that at the same time insurance companies refuse to cover fertile women, there are those actively trying to ban birth control so that there will be MORE pregnancy, pregnancies in which the health of BOTH the woman and fetus will be at risk for lack of prenatal care?


      Perhaps one easy common ground solution could be to insist that insurance companies cover prenatal and obstetric care for all their insured.


  • invalid-0

    As a nation, we’ve made great strides to ban gender discrimination and to guarantee equality under the law for both men and women. Women are able to vote, own property, run a business, and adopt children.

    But when it comes to the individual personal insurance market, women still face discrimination. Women pay significantly higher premiums than men (at least until the age of 55) for insurance plans sold on the individual market. I still don’t get it!