Monday, October 19, 2009

Advocates Say Being a Woman Is Not a 'Pre-Existing Condition'

Incisive Media's

by Tresa Baldas

Is having a uterus a pre-existing condition?

The insurance companies seem to think so, says the National Women's Law Center, an advocacy group for women's legal rights that is on a mission to end unfair insurance company practices toward women. And it believes it's making some headway.

Over the weekend, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new state law that bans gender rating, which is the practice of charging women higher insurance rates than men for the same services.

And on Thursday, Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, took the group's fight to Capitol Hill, testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about how insurance companies treat women unfairly and why any health care reform package must address this problem.

"Across health insurance markets, discriminatory industry practices put fair and affordable coverage out of reach for far too many women," Greenberger testified on Oct. 15. "We have heard repeatedly from predominately female businesses that have learned that their health insurance premiums are higher because of the gender of their employees."

The cornerstone of Greenberger's arguments is 2008 study in which her group looked at women's experiences in the health insurance market. It found:

• Women are charged as much as 48 percent more than men for health insurance.

• Of the more than 3,500 plans studied, 60 percent did not cover maternity care.

• Women are regularly denied coverage for "pre-existing conditions," which can include pregnancy or a previous C-section.

• In eight states and the District of Columbia, insurers are allowed to use a woman's status as a survivor of domestic violence to deny her health insurance.

Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group representing 1,300 plans, also testified at the Senate hearing. She conceded that the current system is flawed in addressing the coverage needs of women, but said that the industry is "strongly committed to meeting the health care needs of women" and wants to eliminate rating based on gender and health status.

"Our proposals directly confront the reality that the individual health insurance market…needs to be fundamentally overhauled," said Ignagni.

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