Women pay $1 billion more each year in individual health insurance costs even though they tend take better care of their health than men, according to a new report released on Monday by the National Women's Law Center.
What does that add up to in real life? Take a 40-year-old woman who does not smoke in Louisville, KY. She pays $196 a month, compared to the $128 a male smoker pays for the very same coverage with HumanaOne, according to data cited by the New York Times.
Our Kentucky woman is not alone. Over half of the best-selling individual plans charge non-smoking women more than their cigarette-puffing male counterparts, according to the Law Center report. Women who are overweight also pay more than men who are equally overweight, according to health insurance website eHealthInsurance.com.
The price discrepancy for women underscores an ongoing gender gap for health coverage in the United States. In the vast majority states, insurance companies can charge women more than men for the same coverage because of what is called a "gender rating."
It's akin to charging women extra for having lady parts.
The issue flared up earlier this month after a partisan fracas broke out on Capital Hill over who should foot the bill--insurers or employers--for hormonally based medications like The Pill, which can be used as contraception as well as to treat medical conditions, like ovarian cysts.
Under President Obama's health care reform, the Affordable Care Act, some states have already eliminated the gender rating for individuals. Health insurance companies in California, New York and at least 10 other states have already banned the use of the gender rating. By law, all health insurance providers must stop pricing women differently starting in 2014--but so far in the vast majority of states, insurance providers are still taking a little extra from their female policy holders. Other laws generally prohibit price discrepancy in group plans offered by large employers.
More than 7.5 million women buy their own health insurance, the Law Center cited. Insurance companies have defended the higher premiums saying that women cost them more because they use more health services than men: They go to the doctor regularly, get frequent check ups and have more prescriptions. In the individual insurance market, where these price differences occur, maternity care coverage is an added charge and does not drive the gap in cost, according to the New York Times.
So for now, it still pays for women to shop around for health insurance. The government's healthcare website provides a comparison and locator tool. Other independent resources to check out health care costs include Consumer Cost Lookup and eHealthInsurance.com.