Colorado bill to end insurance-industry gender discrimination advances

DENVER– Colorado members of the House overwhelming supported a bill that would mandate gender equity in the Colorado individual health insurance market. The bill passed by voice vote after just ten minutes of debate Wednesday, a remarkable feat in this contentious, budget strapped, elction year session. . The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, and Rep Beth McCann, D-Denver, underwent a final perfunctory reading Thursday.

Reps. Beth McCann and Sue Schafer

Reps. Beth McCann and Sue Schafer

Although the proposed legislation drew skeptical critiques from mostly male members of the Health and Human Services Committee where it was introduced last month, no one rose against it on the floor Wednesday. All of the lawmakers who spoke on the floor– a mix of Republicans and Democrats, men and women– urged their colleagues to vote in favor of the bill.

Introducing the bill, Schafer used a pie chart of the health insurance market to make her point. The current private insurance market, meaning plans purchased by individuals, not companies, only accounts for about 6 percent of Coloradans, compared to 57 percent enrolled in employer-sponsored programs and another 19 percent enrolled in federal plans.

“This is a very narrow bill with a narrow title. We are not trying to change large sectors of the industry, just the individual market,” Schafer said from the floor. “There is no actual proof that woman cost more than men. We checked all areas of the state, and women are charged 10 percent up to 60 percent more than men with no actual data to support this kind of rating.

“So I am proposing that a better way to determine rates is on your claims not on your gender. Let’s not make being a woman a pre-existing condition for determining health insurance… Let’s get rid of this arbitrary rating in this sector, that’s what this bill is trying to do.”

Colorado Division of Insurance Commissioner Marsy Marshall told the Colorado Independent that enrollment in the individual market will rise. Factors include the fact that layoffs are continuing, that more digital-age workers are striking out on their own, that employers are looking to avoid paying increasingly outsized health insurance costs and that sky-high Cobra prices are untenable.

McCann spoke to fears that the bill might be a “job killer” or anti-business. She said that twelve other states had passed similar anti-gender discrimination health insurance laws and that no insurance company had left the market in those states as a result.

Calhan and Aurora Republican Reps. Marsha Looper and Cindy Acree lent bi-partisan power to the testimony.

“More than half the people in my district are female… This is a great bill. Thank you very much,” Looper said.

Rep. Tom Massey argued it wasn’t fair that a 30-year-old woman who doesn’t smoke pays more than an older man who does smoke. Massey also touched on the lack of maternity coverage in the individual market, a subject not addressed in the Schafer-McCann bill.

Massey it wasn’t fair that women pay more than men into the system, yet private insurance companies do not cover prenatal care or even birth control.

A bill aimed at addressing that concern is currently making its way through the legislature. If passed, it would require insurance companies to cover pregnancy and family planning.

One of the largest individual insurance providers in Colorado, Anthem Blue Cross, admitted that it practices gender discrimination. Anthem is currently under fire for an across-the-board rate hike of up to 29 percent on its popular individual market BluePreferred PPO plan. Anthem announced a similarly dramatic rate hike recently in California, spurring outcry and moving Sen. Diane Feinstein to move to prevent such increases and to sign onto Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet’s call to pass a health reform bill that includes a non-profit public alternative to private health insurance, the so-called public option.

Anthem said the Colorado Division of Insurance approved the double-digit hike and that the hike was based on factors other than gender, including age, health history and the number of crimes committed in a policy holder’s zip code.

An Anthem’s customer service representative told the Colorado Independent that Anthem absolutely rates women differently than men.

“Insurance for a girl that can get pregnant and have a baby will be different from a man who can’t get pregnant and have a baby… If he’s 23 and you are 23, you are not going to be rated the same no matter where you go, no matter what company you go to. It’s going to be different. They are going to look at it differently,”

Asked about recent increases, Anthem confirmed that the company would and had raised monthly premiums by $59 on 32-year-old non-smoker women living in Boulder County this year.

But the Anthem plans don’t cover maternity care. No they don’t, said the Anthem rep.

“Women have a different set of organs than men have. [Insurance companies] look at it differently. They judge it differently. You have different things. A man is going to rated differently than a woman because of the number of issues that can come up, the number of issues that may come up for women… Say you got uterine cancer, we don’t pay for you baby, but we’ve got to pay for your cancer. So it’s not just a baby,” she said.

Schafer and McCann’s bill now heads to the Senate.

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Becca Blond

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