Colorado House Bill 1224 got preliminary approval yesterday from the Colorado Senate, but it was changed from a ban on setting health insurance rates based on gender to a study to determine the effects of such a ban. The bill was intended to be a ban on the practice of using gender to determine health insurance premiums, but it has gone back and forth from a ban to a study as it makes its way through the legislative process.
I wrote about HB 1224 last month, and have been watching its progress over the last several weeks. Unlike some of the other health care bills in Colorado right now, I doubt that HB 1224 will have much of an effect on the number of people in Colorado who are uninsured. It’s true that premiums for younger women would decrease if gender could no longer be considered in setting rates. And this would likely result in an increase in the number of insured women in Colorado. But on the other side of the equation, young men would pay higher premiums than they currently do, which would likely mean that fewer of them would purchase health insurance. For myself and Jay, and all of the other families that include a husband and wife, the net effect will probably be negligable – my premiums will go down, Jay’s will go up, and the total amount we pay each month will remain virtually unchanged.
I can see the point of this legislation – equality and fairness should be sought after whenever possible. But there’s a stereotype about men and women and health care. We’ve all heard it: that a man has to be bleeding to death before he’ll go to the doctor, whereas women will go in at the first sign of a sore throat. Obviously this is an exaggeration of the truth, but there is a grain of truth in it. As with any stereotype, it doesn’t apply to all members of either group (I’m a woman, but other than preventive care, I have been to the doctor three times in my life – maybe I should petition to get male rates?) All joking aside, women do tend to seek medical care more often than men. While I can see the point of the legislation in terms of fairness, it doesn’t seem fair to penalize men by making them pay more for their health insurance even when as a group they seek medical care less often.
I would prefer to see more focus on addressing ways to lower our overall utilization of health care, especially among women. I’m seeing more news articles lately about health insurance companies looking into reimbursing doctors for email and phone consultations with patients (which I assume would be less expensive than an office visit), and I think this is a good start. Patient education in terms of which illnesses are self-remitting and which need medical attention would be helpful too. The ad campaign to convince people that antibiotics don’t work on viral infections like colds and flus is another good start. Overall, I think that the focus needs to be on reducing health care costs (which requires addressing all aspects of the health care system, from patients and doctors, to pharmaceutical companies and health insurance carriers) rather than redistributing the costs among men and women.