The lawmakers in Colorado are debating a change in the law to correct the gender discrimination currently requiring women to pay more than men to insure their health. The facts are uncompromising. In some 90% of all private health plans, women have premium rates 60% higher than men. This is so even though the statistics show women enjoy better health than men and make fewer claims. This is so even though the men used for comparative purposes are significantly older. And, if you feel you need any more confirmation of the basic unfairness, even men who smoke pay less than female non-smokers. As one of the women promoting the bill commented: insurers often refuse coverage because the applicant has a pre-existing condition. The way the premiums are loaded, it seems being a woman is a pre-existing condition.
The people who are paid to speak on behalf of the insurance industry usually fall back on the tried and trusted defense that women have medical needs specific to their gender. The most often quoted example is maternity and prenatal care. Ignoring the fact that men also have problems specific to their gender, such as erectile dysfunction, women are still quoted premiums 60% higher on policies excluding reproductive health needs. In other words, the discrimination persists even though the scope of the medical coverage is identical. So what’s going on? The answer, in this instance, is slightly complicated. If we start with auto insurance, it’s common knowledge that young men are statistically more likely than any other group of drivers to crash into another vehicle or some stationary object. Thus, where the policy discriminates between different groups of drivers, young men pay significantly more than women who tend to drive more safely. Not all auto policies do discriminate. By spreading the risk among a big group of drivers, the good subsidize the bad. But, most auto insurers do set different premium rates for different groups of drivers distinguished by gender and age. In medicine, it’s a fact that men fall ill and die, whereas women tend to recover from illnesses. This is one of the reasons why women have a longer life expectancy than men. But it also explains why women cost more. They survive for longer with chronic problems requiring continuing treatment. Thus, if the premium is a reflection of the likely costs of treatment over a person’s lifetime, it may appear slightly more reasonable to charge women higher premiums. Except this ignores the general rule that private health insurance stops at 65 as Medicare kicks in. The major long-term costs tend to occur after 65.
Colorado looks as though it may join the one or two other states with equality provisions. There’s no evidence from these other states that men now have to pay significantly more. For now, insurers simply make less profit. As a woman, it’s particularly important to research exactly what the different companies offer. Because of this, searching for cheap health insurance is a greater challenge. Always refer to the websites of the companies making the best quotes to see if there are additional discounts available or special policies for women. If there seems to be no cheap health insurance available, talk directly with the insurers to see whether the difference between the male and female premium rates can be reduced. Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a state committed to equality. It is for you to protect yourself as best as possible.