Friday, May 8, 2009

Thanks, but no thanks

The Daily Women's Health Policy Report said on May 6 that the president of America's Health Insurance Plans has offered to end the practice of charging women more than men for private health insurance.
About 9% of U.S. residents, including about 5.7 million women, are insured through individual policies. Unlike employer-sponsored plans, premiums for individual insurance policies typically charge women higher premiums than men (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Contra Costa Times, 5/5). Women in these plans can be charged 25% to 50% more than men for the same coverage, according to the Times. Insurers say the disparity results from women using more health care than men, especially during their childbearing years.
Eliminating this form of discrimination against women sounds like a great idea, right? But wait, there's a catch.

Democrats, including President Obama and congressional leaders, have proposed creating a public insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. During a congressional hearing on how to provide health insurance to people who don't have it, Karen Ignagni, president of AHIP, made the offer to end discrimination against women seeking private insurance--if the government doesn't create the public health insurance plan.

Now let's reason this out. Most likely, the proposed public insurance plan would not discriminate against women. Which means lots and lot of women--maybe as many as 5.7 million of them--would stop giving their money to private insurers and sign up for the public plan. As I've written in a previous post, the option to choose a public health plan has significant drawbacks to the option of creating a single-payer health insurance program. But this situation makes it obvious that private insurers don't want to have to compete with a public plan, which would probably offer superior care at a lower cost than private insurance. I don't think we should let the private insurers try to bargain their way out of this one.

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