Women's Health Insurance Under Healthcare Reform
Major reforms in the health insurance industry are forthcoming. The House of Representatives narrowly passed their healthcare reform bill Saturday night, and the Senate will most likely soon follow. The bills will have a disproportionate impact on women, for both good and ill. Women are more likely to be uninsured for several reasons; among them are lower incomes that leave them unable to afford individual health insurance, as well as a greater likelihood of working in service professions and/or small employers less likely to offer health insurance. In this respect, the House's bill promises to help assist them in becoming insured.
The healthcare reform bill will make health insurance plans more affordable for women by prohibiting gender rating. Gender rating is a commonly practiced by many insurers and consists of charging a woman higher health insurance premiums, compared to a man of similar age and health status. Health insurance companies have defended gender rating due to the fact that unlike men, women are more likely to need maternity coverage. Moreover, their statistical tables show that women utilize greater amounts of medical services early in life (mostly cost-effective preventative care), and that the scales balance out in middle-age. Despite their protests, a ban on the practice will allow women to buy more affordable health insurance.
More indirectly, women will also benefit from the bill's ban on denying health coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. In the past, there have been some unfortunate incidents of health insurance companies refusing to write policies for female victims of domestic violence or rape. Healthcare reform looks to avoid doubling their hardship. Diseases like breast and ovarian cancer will also no longer be a barrier to buying a health insurance plan. A negative aspect of the bill is that it includes a tax increase for individuals and couples that earn $500,000 and $1 million, respectively, per year. The percentage of women within those income brackets is unequal but growing. At least initially, less women than men will bear the brunt of the new taxes.
Since women (as well as children) are at higher risk for being under the poverty line, the proposed health insurance exchange enacted by the government may also help them. Low- and middle-income individuals and families will be eligible for federal subsidies, which will allow them to buy into either private health insurance plans or the public option. State health insurance programs for children, such as SCHIP, will also see an increase in funding. In addition, young adults are now allowed to stay on their parents' health insurance plan until they are 27 years of age. This is a boon for younger women searching for employment and building their careers during a recession that has turned the workforce upside down.
However, health insurance reform comes with a catch. In a compromise to get the healthcare reform bill passed, the House agreed to forbid the federal subsidies from being used to purchase a health insurance plan that includes coverage for abortions. Previously, the bill simply stated that the procedure in itself couldn't be subsidized with federal funds. While women who work for the federal government or who are on Medicaid have not been able to buy such coverage for decades, this could jeopardize the existing coverage included in 85% of private health insurance plans. The insurance exchange has the potential to be a very lucrative market for insurers, but any plan that includes abortion services will not be allowed to take part. Therefore, insurers will either create entirely new options for the exchange, or strip abortion services from some of the plans they already offer. The latter appears more likely, in order to cut costs and preserve profits.
Some polls have shown that women in general are slightly more supportive of healthcare reform than the general population. Maybe women feel like they have more to lose, or are more cautious regarding their health. Still, in some respects it can be a double edged sword. Pro-choice feminist groups, such as the Feminist Majority Foundation and Planned Parenthood, have expressed support for reform, but have recently expressed vocal outrage over what they consider a slippery slope to a "de-facto ban" on the legal practice. However, there are also pro-life groups that have hailed the amendment with eliminating their main objection. The former group seems to overturn the amendment in the Senate, which hasn't even presented its final bill. On the whole, healthcare reform could see many women benefit.
Written by Yamileth Medina
VitalOne Health Plans Direct, LLC.