$1 Billion Cost of Gender Discrimination in Health Insurance

Discriminatory practices in the health insurance industry cost female health care consumers $1 billion a year, according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center. These business practices will be illegal under a provision of the Affordable Care Act that takes effect in 2014.

The report focuses on gender ratings, which insurance companies use to charge higher rates to women than men. Essentially, many insurers treat being born female as a pre-existing condition when it comes to setting premium prices. Not only will this discriminatory practice remain legal until the health care law takes effect in 2014, it is pervasive across the industry. From the report:

In states that have not banned the practice, the vast majority, 92%, of best-selling plans gender rate,  for example, charging 40-year-old women more than 40-year-old men for coverage. Only 3% of these plans cover maternity services.

Insurers claim they charge more because women are more likely to actually use the insurance benefits they have paid for. From The New York Times:

Insurers said they charged women more than men because claims showed that women ages 19 to 55 tended to use more health care services. They are more likely to visit doctors, to get regular checkups, to take prescription drugs and to have certain chronic illnesses.

The Affordable Care Act ends gender rating and requires all plans, including individual plans, to provide maternity coverage.