Healthcare Reform – A Step Forward for Women’s Health

Now that the Congress has passed the Healthcare Reform bill, I’d like to take a moment to talk about how that legislation will affect women’s health, in particular their access to affordable health insurance.

The bottom line is that women are going to benefit from this legislation.  Yes, I know that opponents of abortion successfully prohibited federal dollars from being used for abortion but, aside from that loss, there are some positive developments for women. 

At the current moment, in most states health insurance companies are allowed to consider gender when they set their rates for individual health plans.  What that means is that women are often charged more than men for the same coverage.  Indeed, a recent study found that at age 25, women are charged between 6-45% more than men for the identical insurance coverage.  At age 40, women’s monthly premiums are between 4-48% higher than men’s monthly premiums.   

In addition, when it comes to group health insurance plans (that are used by businesses), insurance companies can take into account the percentage of women in that company when they set the company’s overall premium.  So, companies that employ more women often pay more for coverage.

When this bill is signed into law in a few hours by President Obama, the use of “gender rating” will be severely curtailed as it related to both individual and group health insurance plans. 

From a more generic point of view, 45% of women (39% of men) were uninsured or underinsured in 2007 versus 39% of men.  Under the new law, up to 4.5 million uninsured women will now be eligible for insurance under the Medicaid program.  Also, new insurance plans would be required to cover preventive care, including mammograms, without cost sharing.  And one relatively unnoticed provision recently caught my eye:   employers with over 50 employees will now be required to provide a break and a location for nursing mothers to breast feed their infants!

The new law is by no means perfect.   But it’s a great start, especially for women!

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