Senator John F. Kerry today introduced a bill that would stop insurers from charging women higher premiums, or denying or limiting coverage based on whether they are pregnant.
Kerry cited a September 2008 report by the National Women’s Law Center that found insurance companies can reject applicants for reasons that affect women; that it is difficult and costly for women to find health insurance that covers maternity care; and that women often face higher premiums than men for identical coverage.
“The disparity between women and men in the individual insurance market is just plain wrong and it has to change,” Kerry said in a statement. “With Mother’s Day around the corner, there’s no better gift to American women than discrimination-free, affordable and accessible insurance that meets their health needs.”
Coincidentally, the main health insurer group said today it would end its practice of charging higher premiums to women if all Americans are required to obtain coverage, the industry's latest concession as it tries to stave off the creation of a government plan that would directly compete with private insurers.
"We don't believe gender should be a subject of rating," Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, told the Senate Finance Committee, the Associated Press reports. "We are ready to be accountable to those rules."
A summary of Kerry's bill is below:
The Women’s Health Insurance Fairness Act would:
· prevent insurers in the individual market from charging women higher premiums than men;
· prevent insurers in the individual market from denying or limiting coverage based on a current or past pregnancy or past or future method of delivery (such as a Cesarean section);
· require all insurance policies offered on the individual market to provide comprehensive maternity coverage for the full scope of maternity services from preconception through postpartum;
· provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the authority to monitor compliance with the requirements of this Act and assess fines of at least $10,000 against any health insurance company that fails to submit the required data; and
· direct the Government Accountability Office to issue a report by December 31, 2010 about problems remaining for women on the individual insurance market in all 50 states and DC following enactment of this Act.
This legislation is supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Children’s Defense Fund, Consumers Union, Families USA, National Partnership for Women & Families, OWL - The Voice of Midlife and Older Women, and the Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH).
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.