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Schwarzenegger's Actions Affect Women's Health Insurance


California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger acted on a number of bills on Sunday October 11 that will soon have an impact on women’s health insurance benefits. Most of the bills will go into effect on January 1, 2010.

Inequality between men and women concerning health insurance coverage and premiums has been gaining increasing attention in recent years, especially with the current debate around health insurance reform. Many lawmakers, as well as Michelle Obama, a former hospital administrator, have been speaking out about the imbalance of health care coverage between the genders.

Gov. Schwarzenegger took a welcome step when he signed a bill that prohibits health insurance companies from charging different premiums based on gender, a practice called gender rating. California now joins 12 other states that limit or prohibit gender rating.

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According to a report issued by the National Women’s Law Center in September 2008, entitled “Nowhere to Turn: How the Individual Health Insurance Market Fails Women,” there is still much to be done. In its highlight of the practice of gender rating, for example, it notes that insurance companies charge women up to 48 percent more for individual health care coverage than men. More specifically, the report notes that among health insurers who practice gender rating, a 25-year-old woman can expect to pay from 6 to 45 percent more than a 25-year-old man and that a 40-year-old woman could see premiums from 4 to 48 percent higher than those for a man of the same age.

The report from the National Women’s Law Center, which is a rallying document for women and organizations who are fighting for equality in health insurance and health care for women, also notes that it is legal for insurance companies in eight state, plus the District of Columbia, to deny health insurance coverage to women who have been victims of domestic violence. Those states include Idaho, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

In some states, women who try to purchase their own health insurance plan find that it is very expensive or not even possible to get maternity care coverage. Governor Schwarzenegger continued that inequality in California when he vetoed a bill that would have required health insurance companies to cover such services, saying that the bill would contribute to rising health care costs. He also vetoed a bill that would have required health insurers to cover lactation consultation and breast pump rentals.

According to an article in the Miami Herald on October 15, health insurance companies have promised to end gender discrimination, notes Karen Ignagni, the president and chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry group. This is just one of many promises that have been bandied about during this long health care reform debate. In all likelihood, it will not be the last.

Miami Herald, October 15, 2009
National Women’s Law Center
Sacramento Bee, October 12, 2009