September 30th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman
As every woman who has ever borne a child knows, delivering a baby can be extremely expensive. Add the cost of hospitalization to the expense of prenatal care, and no one but the very wealthy can really afford to have children without insurance.
For a woman who becomes pregnant without the benefit of health insurance, finding coverage after the fact can be nearly impossible. Why? Because it’s all about risk—and a pregnant woman is at significantly higher risk of medical complications than the average man will ever be.
Whether pregnant at the time of application or not, finding affordable health insurance is definitely costlier for women than for men. Experts say that’s true for two reasons:
- Women seek preventive medical care more often than men.
- Men tend to live healthier lifestyles, keep in better shape and need less medical care overall than women.
But is it fair for insurance companies to base health insurance rates on gender to begin with? Should gender even be examined as a factor in underwriting?
Though most would say no, the issue is more complicated than it first appears. As Jeb explains in his article on the insurance gender gap, insurance companies may not be the chauvinist pigs they’re made out to be when it comes to gender-based underwriting.
In fact, anyone who presents more than average risk can justifiably expect his or her insurance rates to run higher than average—whether female, male or senior citizen—and someone has to pay to insure that additional risk.
Take for instance car insurance. Because males—especially young ones—tend to drive more recklessly and have more accidents, they pay significantly more for auto insurance. The same logic applies to women and health insurance.
Sometimes insurers decide not to base health insurance rates on gender. When that happens, those companies end up ensuring a large number of high-risk clients—and wind up absorbing an enormous amount of additional risk. In the end, that drives rates up anyway…a lose-lose for both insured and insurer, no matter how you look at it.
But women aren’t going to stop having babies, are they? And men aren’t going to stop fathering them. Life happens, so we have to figure out how to solve the gender gap problem, while taking care of our women and children.
What’s the answer? Should women go without sufficient medical care, risk being unhealthy themselves and having unhealthy babies? Or should we base rates on the actual amount of health risk present, rather than the amount of insurance used up through prevention?
You decide…or propose your own solution. We’d love to hear it!