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Insurance Concession To Stop Charging Women More Doesn't Go Far

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The nation's largest organization of registered nurses today said the conditional offer by the insurance industry to stop charging women more for health coverage does not go nearly far enough.

"It is long past time for the insurance industry to stop holding any American’s health hostage based on gender, age, health status, or where they live," said Geri Jenkins, RN, co-president of the 86,000-member California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.

Next week, hundreds of RNs from around the nation will gather in Washington for a conference, march and rally to promote legislation for safer patient care and a healthcare system based on guaranteed healthcare with a single standard of care for all. The event includes a march and rally May 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Upper Senate Park.

In testimony Tuesday to the Senate Finance Committee, yet another hearing where Congress excluded the voices of those advocating broader reform, the president of the insurance trade lobby America's Health Insurance Plans offered to end the practice of higher charges to women.

But AHIP continues to demand conditions in health reform proposals now before Congress, including a requirement that all Americans currently without coverage be forced to buy private insurance, and that Congress block any inclusion of a public alternative to private insurance.

Most recently, AHIP has upped the ante, insisting that federal laws overturn state-based public protection regulations on insurers, such as requirements in a number of states that private insurers must cover such critical basics as maternity care or preventive cancer screenings.

"The reprehensible decision to charge women more – a form of institutionalized bias – symbolizes everything that is wrong with our profit-oriented, private insurance healthcare system," said Jenkins.

A report last fall by the National Women's Law Center found that insurers charge a typical 40-year-old woman anywhere from 4 percent to 48 percent more than a man of the same age for an identical policy.

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"Their excuse, that women are more likely to use health services while of child bearing age and have a greater propensity to access preventive care, is immoral, and further reflects why so many Americans are demanding real reform," said Jenkins.

But even if the gender discrimination is ended, "the private system is replete with numerous other forms of price disparities that penalize large segments of our population and discourage far too many individuals and families from getting the healthcare they need and deserve," said Jenkins.

"There can be no more excuses, no more exceptions, no more impediments to care," Jenkins said.

The widespread disparities and offensive pricing practices that characterize the private system, Jenkins noted, are a major reason why as much as a third of every healthcare dollar is wasted on administrative overhead and bureaucracy.

"And that's a major reason why America's nurses, along with doctors, medical students, and health care community activists across the nation are insisting on real reform that takes our healthcare out of the hands of the private insurers and puts our health in the hands of patients, their families, and their doctors and nurses," Jenkins noted.

Jenkins also noted what she called the "telling admission" by AHIP's Karen Ignani who asked for government help in making the system fairer. Ignani said, "we're not asking any individual to trust us, we're asking them to trust the government."

"The industry recognizes it has no credibility with the public. Why are so many in Washington trying to craft a reform plan that places accommodation of the insurance industry rather than a reform plan that will actually fix the problem?" Said Jenkins

CNA/NNOC supports two bills, HR 676 and S 703 that would establish a single-payer system, such as an expanded and updated Medicare that covers everyone.

Jenkins said CNA/NNOC also endorses the criticisms of other single-payer activists who have protested the exclusion of discussion of the single-payer alternative in the main Congressional hearings on reform – protests that led to civil disobedience and several arrests on Tuesday in the Senate Finance Committee.