The issue of women paying more than men for health insurance has been in the news quite a bit in recent days. In Colorado – as in most states – women pay more than men for health insurance until age 50-55, when most carriers begin to charge higher premiums to men. The reasoning is all based on numbers; the data gathered by health insurance carriers clearly demonstrates that women have higher health care costs than men, for a myriad of reasons. Women tend to take more medications and visit the doctor more often (the stereotype of men waiting until they’re bleeding to death before being dragged to the doctor has to be based on something), and we’re the ones who have babies. While very few individual health insurance policies in Colorado cover maternity, they all cover “complications of pregnancy” – situations that can turn a $10,000 pregnancy into a six figure hospital bill. A scary thought indeed, but keep in mind that it does take two to make a baby, so tacking the additional costs to only the woman’s health insurance premiums seems misguided.
Now the burning question popping up on blogs and editorial pages across the country is whether the practice of charging women more for health insurance is fair. This opinion article from the NY Times points out that insurance companies used to base premiums on race, using statistical claims data to uphold their positions. I imagine such an idea would be considered ludicrous today, and yet charging differing rates to men and women for identical policies doesn’t really make any more sense.
I believe it would be more logical to average the costs of health insurance for men and women, and charge the same rates to both groups. For family health insurance policies where both a man and a woman are covered on the policy, there would be no difference, since the man’s rate would go up while the woman’s would go down. But across all policies, I do believe that such an action would serve to make health insurance premiums more fair. It’s more in keeping with the original intent of health insurance, which is to divide risk among a pool of people. So when it comes to setting premiums, why not widen the pool to include all policy-holders, rather than just those of the same gender?