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New NWLC report: Discriminatory health insurance practices cost women $1 billion a year

Center launches campaign to educate and mobilize women to protect important benefits of the health care law

March 19, 2012

(Washington, D.C.) The health insurance company practice of charging women more than men for the same coverage costs women $1 billion a year, according to analysis of advertised premiums in a new report released today by the National Women’s Law Center. The Center also launched a campaign to educate women about the benefits of the health care law, including ending such insurance discrimination.

The Center’s new campaign, I Will NOT Be Denied™, will educate women about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and engage them to fight to protect the law from opponents who would take it away. The Center released a compelling video of intimate portraits of women (view at www.IWillNotBeDenied.org) that will be distributed online to kick off its campaign during the week-long nationwide celebration of the ACA’s second anniversary. The more than thirty organizations that have joined the Center’s campaign include: American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; FamiliesUSA; Feminist Majority Foundation; Health Care for America Now; MomsRising; MoveOn.org Civic Action; and Service Employees International Union (full list below).

The Center’s report, Turning to Fairness: Insurance discrimination against women today and the Affordable Care Act (available at www.nwlc.org/turningtofairness), documents how insurers on the individual market use discriminatory practices that make it difficult for women to obtain affordable health care. The report’s stark findings include:

  • The practice of gender rating—or generally charging women more for the same coverage—costs women in the individual health insurance market approximately $1 billion a year, based on average current advertised premiums and the most recent data on the number of women in the individual market.
  • In states that have not banned gender rating, 92 percent of best-selling plans charge women more than men, even though the vast majority of these plans do not cover maternity services.
  • In most states, it is common for a female non-smoker to be charged more than a male smoker simply because she is a woman. Fifty-six percent of best-selling plans charge a 40-year-old woman who does not smoke more than a 40-year-old man who does smoke. 
  • In states where maternity coverage is not mandated (all but nine states), only six percent of health plans available to a 30-year-old woman provide such coverage. And in 25 states, there is no insurance plan available on the individual market that covers maternity services.
  • Huge and arbitrary variations exist in each state and across the country in the difference in premiums charged to women and men—even with maternity coverage excluded.

The report also finds that insurance companies—despite being aware of these discriminatory practices—have not voluntarily taken steps to eliminate the inequities. While some states have outlawed or limited these practices, the report concludes that they will only end nationally when the ACA is fully implemented in 2014.

“It’s important that women learn how the law corrects insurance discrimination, which costs them hard-earned dollars, and how it is already working for them in many other ways,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center. “Thanks to the law, many basic preventive services are now available without a co-pay or deductible, including mammograms, colonoscopies, and Pap tests, and over 20 million women have received at least one such preventive  service without paying out of pocket. 

“The law now allows parents to keep their young adult children up to age 26 on their insurance policies, which has already helped 2.5 million young adults gain health coverage. And parents with sick children have peace of mind knowing that insurers can no longer deny coverage to children with preexisting conditions,” Greenberger added.

Adrienne, a 29-year-old D.C. mother, knows this first-hand. Two years ago, her newborn, Cora, received emergency treatment for oxygen deprivation and seizure due to severe meconium aspiration—a serious condition in which a newborn breathes in a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid. “I’m so grateful that, because of the ACA, I don’t have to worry about her ever being denied coverage because of what happened when she was born,” she said.

The Center is calling on supporters to learn more about the health care law and share the I Will NOT Be Denied™ video with their families, friends and neighbors and also is using paid and social media to spread the word. In coming months, the Center will keep supporters up to date on threats to the law in the courts and in Congress and engage them to protect the ACA. Supporters also can join the conversation on Twitter using the #notdenied hashtag and visit the website, www.IWillNotBeDenied.org.

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To interview Adrienne or other women who have been helped by the Affordable Care Act, contact Rachel Perrone (rperrone@nwlc.org) or Andrea Maruniak (amaruniak@nwlc.org), 202-588-5180.

Organizations Joining the Campaign:
9to5, National Association of Working Women
American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
American Medical Women's Association
Catholics for Choice
Colorado Consumer Health Initiative
Consumers for Affordable Health Care
Doctors for America
FamiliesUSA
Feminist Majority Foundation
Gender Impacts Policy
Health Care for America Now
Maryland Women's Coalition for Health Care Reform
MomsRising
Montana Women Vote
MoveOn.org Civic Action
National Council of Jewish Women
National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association
National Health Law Program
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Organization for Women
National Research Center for Women and Families
Northwest Health Law Advocates
Older Women's League
Positive Women's Network
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
Service Employees International Union
Sister Song
TakeAction Minnesota
Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health
WomenHeart
Women's Law Project
National Physicians Alliance