HEALTH INSURANCE DISCRIMINATION?
May 1, 2009 -- Insurance companies offered Tuesday to end the practice of charging higher premiums to women than to men for the same coverage.
Karen M. Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, made the offer in testifying before the Senate Finance Committee.
It was the latest concession by insurers as Congress drafts legislation to overhaul the $2.5 trillion health care industry.
In November, insurers said they would accept all customers, regardless of illness or disability, if Congress required all Americans to have coverage. In March, insurers offered to stop charging higher premiums to sick people.
Ms. Ignagni said the industry would accept aggressive federal regulation, but would resist creation of a government-run insurance program of the type proposed by President Obama and many Democrats in Congress. The government-sponsored program would compete with private insurers.
Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, told Ms. Ignagni, "The disparity between women and men in the individual insurance market is just plain wrong, and it has to change."
She said she agreed the disparities "should be eliminated."
Mr. Kerry introduced a bill on Tuesday to prohibit insurers from considering sex as a factor in setting premiums for policies in the individual insurance market.
Women are often charged 25 percent to 50 percent more than men for insurance providing identical coverage.
In interviews last fall, insurance executives said they had a sound reason for the different premiums: Women ages 19 to 55 tend to cost more than men of the same age because they typically use more health care, especially in the childbearing years. Moreover, insurers said women were more likely to visit doctors, to get regular checkups, to take prescription medications and to have certain chronic illnesses.
Congress is considering proposals to provide tax credits or subsidies to millions of people with low or moderate incomes to help them buy insurance. Without substantial changes in the insurance market, such assistance would be worth less to women because of the higher premiums.
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