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Women’s Health Insurance Fairness Act Introduced by Senator John Kerry

John Kerry and health insurance act

There is much regarding health insurance in the news these days. Individuals and families are losing their health insurance. The high cost of COBRA benefits is another concern. The debate over health insurance reform so all might be covered.

Yesterday, Senator John Kerry introduced legislation that would change how insurance companies charge for health care benefits for women. His legislation, "The Women's Health Insurance Fairness Act," is based on a September 2008 report by the National Women’s Law Center.

The legislation is meant to remove the disparity between women and men in the individual health insurance market. Traditionally, women have been charged more for coverage. Often women have been denied coverage or had coverage limited based on their pregnancy status or delivery method.

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The American women who receive health insurance coverage from their employer have long been protected from exclusion of maternity coverage. Federal and state laws prevent insurance companies from charging employees different premiums based on sex. This new legislation would extend this same protection to individuals (some 5.7 million women) who may be forced to buy coverage in the individual health insurance market.

This would greatly benefit self-employed women. If the entire country moves toward the health insurance changes that Massachusetts has employed to require coverage, it will be extremely important in leveling the field for women who will need to purchase health insurance coverage but do not work for a large company.

An example of the disparity can be found in the following example for a 30 year old woman verse a 30 year old man: a Humana plan with a $2,500 deductible, the woman pays 31 percent more than a man of the same age in many cities.

The Women's Health Insurance Fairness Act would:

  • prevent insurers in the individual market from charging women higher premiums than men;
  • prevent insurers in the individual market from denying or limiting coverage based on a current or past pregnancy or past or future method of delivery (such as a Cesarean section);
  • require all insurance policies offered on the individual market to provide comprehensive maternity coverage for the full scope of maternity services from preconception through postpartum;
  • provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the authority to monitor compliance with the requirements of this Act and assess fines of at least $10,000 against any health insurance company that fails to submit the required data; and
  • direct the Government Accountability Office to issue a report by December 31, 2010 about problems remaining for women on the individual insurance market in all 50 states and DC following enactment of this Act.

Senator John Kerry’s Newsroom