There have been a wide variety of opinions and debates about the newly-passed health care reform, and many Northwestern students are understandably unsettled by the upcoming changes. It may seem as though change is not necessary, but since the majority of the student body is either a woman or will marry a woman, here is a slightly different perspective on the issue.
In the current health insurance system, women are at a distinct disadvantage. According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), 12 percent of women are uninsured in Iowa, and women are more likely than men to be underinsured, meaning they do not have sufficient coverage to protect their physical and financial health.
For those who are insured, there are typically financial consequences for being a woman. For instance, any self-employed person must purchase health insurance directly from the insurance company. However, according to the NWLC, women in this situation “are often charged more than men for the exact same coverage,” a practice called “gender rating.”
In Iowa, gender rating is also allowed in the group insurance market, although it takes a slightly different form.
According to the NWLC, “[while] federal law prohibits employers from charging individual male and female employees different rates for coverage, insurance companies are allowed to consider the proportion of women a business employs when determining the group’s overall premium.”
To apply this concept in a more tangible manner, if a large employer’s workforce is comprised of a high percentage of women, as is the case with many child care centers and non-profit organizations, these businesses will pay a much higher premium than a company predominantly employing men.
This difference in premium costs stems from a higher tendency of women using the health care system. Some may argue that in a fair system, women should pay more since they have a higher probability of using more of the health care resources. However, the difference in premiums, according to the NWLC, is largely due to reproductive health needs.
Once a woman has had children there can be further difficulties in either obtaining health insurance or paying for it because a pregnancy can be counted as a preexisting condition. “If a woman has previously had a Cesarean section, for instance, insurers may refuse to pay for future C-sections or reject her application altogether,” as stated by the NWLC.
While having children is expensive under the current health care system, should women be penalized simply because they are the only people biologically capable of reproduction?
Economic differences between men and women also contribute to women’s problems with health insurance. According to NWLC, women in Iowa are paid approximately 75 cents for every dollar men earn. This difference in earnings paired with higher health care costs causes a heavy financial burden for many Iowan women.
The result of higher costs and lower earnings is choosing to go without certain medical services. For instance, “more than one in ten women in Iowa reports not visiting a doctor due to high costs.”
Since this is a vast topic, I focused on researching Iowa specifically, but many of these practices are applicable nationwide. Women are subject to higher costs and more difficult access to health care simply because of their gender.
While it is still unclear if the new legislation will relieve the extra burden placed on women in the current system, it is clear that there is a problem that must be addressed.
To learn more about how the health care reform impacts women, go to awomanisnotapreexisting condition.org.