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Women and Health Insurance Reform

Posted on by Karina

In our current health care system, women often face higher health costs than men and multiple other barriers to health insurance. Fewer women are eligible for employer-based coverage, and comprehensive coverage in the individual health care market is often unavailable or prohibitively expensive. As a result, many women are under- or uninsured, and simply can't afford the services they need.

This afternoon, Chair of the Joint Economic Committee Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) released a new report examining what's at stake for women in the health insurance reform debate. The report, Comprehensive Health Insurance Reform: An Essential Prescription for Women, details how our current health insurance system isn't working for women and how women are more vulnerable to high health care costs than men. The JEC also found that since the recession began in December 2007, American women have lost 1.6 million jobs — many seeing their health insurance disappear with their jobs — and over a million women have lost insurance because their husband lost his job:

Over one million women have lost their health insurance

Other key findings in the report:

As a consequence of single mothers' job loss, at least 121,000 children have lost health insurance coverage since December 2007.

75% of women between age 55 and 64 report delaying health care because their own coverage was jeopardized by a spouse's transition onto Medicare.

28% of all young women (ages 19-24) do not have health insurance coverage. The weak job market has hit young workers particularly hard, with the unemployment rate amongst young women at 15.7% in June 2009, the highest in a quarter century and substantially higher than the national unemployment rate of 9.5%.

An estimated 64 million women lack adequate health insurance.

Over half of all medical bankruptcies are filed by female-headed households.

While many Americans are taking desperate measures to cope with the medical bills that pile up following an illness, women are more likely than men to deplete their savings accounts in order to pay medical bills. One-third (33%) of under-insured women deplete their savings to pay medical bills, as compared to 25% of under-insured men.

The health consequences of inadequate coverage are more severe for women than for men and women are more likely than men to run into problems receiving adequate medical care. Over a quarter (27%) of women had health problems requiring medical attention but were not able to see a doctor, compared to 21% of men. Similarly, nearly a quarter (22%) of women reported that they were unable to fill a needed prescription, as compared to 15% of men.

18% of all women report that they delayed or did not receive needed medical care because they were unable to take time off work. Over a quarter (27%) of all low-income women report that an inability to take time off work prohibited them from obtaining needed medical care.

Because women are less likely than men to be employed full-time, they are less likely to be eligible for employer-provided health benefits. 26% of employed women work part-time, and are therefore excluded from their employers' health insurance benefit plans. In contrast, just 13% of working men are part-time employees.

At the press conference, Sarah Wildman of Washington, DC shared her experience with discriminatory health insurance practices. As a self-employed woman, Sarah had an insurance policy she bought through the individual market (her only option for coverage) and when she and her husband had a baby, they were shocked to receive bills for well over $20,000 in hospital expenses. The policy Sarah had been paying for capped her birth-related expenses at $3,000–covering only 15% of her maternity costs:

America’s Affordable Health Choices Act is critical to women's physical and fiscal health — addressing not only the current lack of access to quality affordable health care, but also skyrocketing health care costs. Key provisions in the bill for women:

Eliminates co-pays on recommended preventive services such as breast cancer screenings delivered by Medicare, Medicaid, the new public health insurance option and private plan options in the Health Insurance Exchange. Over a number of years, all private health plans would be required to cover preventive benefits without cost-sharing.

Prohibits new plans from charging women more than men by banning gender rating. This protection will extend to health plans offered by employers over time as well.

Includes coverage of maternity services as a benefit category in the new basic benefit package. All plans in the Exchange would be required to cover maternity services and over time, plans outside the Exchange would be required to do so as well.

Bans the insurance industry practice of rejecting applicants with pre-existing conditions, which has kept women with histories of health problems — even survivors of domestic violence — from accessing individual coverage.

Requires employers to offer adequate insurance coverage to their employees or pay into the system to help their workers afford coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange.

Offers affordability credits to ensure that insurance available in the Exchange is affordable for women and everyone with an income below 400% of poverty.

All plans within the Exchange, and outside the Exchange over time, will be required to contain a standardized annual out-of-pocket spending limit (yearly caps on what you pay) to prevent women and their families from facing bankruptcy due to medical expenses.

Quality, affordable health care is vital for all Americans, but as the JEC report documents, American women face unique challenges and burdens in our current health care system. America’s Affordable Health Choices Act ensures that if you like your plan, you keep it — but provides long overdue insurance reforms for everyone and new solutions for the 64 million uninsured, and millions more who are under-insured, American women.

Read the full Joint Economic Committee report>>

Learn more about what America’s Affordable Health Choices Act means for you>>

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