Lawmakers tussle over bill that would ease health insurance gender discrimination

DENVER– A packed hearing Thursday for a bill that seeks to address wide differences in cost based on gender in the individual health insurance market in Colorado saw clashes erupt between male and female members of the committee. House Bill 1008, sponsored by Reps Beth McCann, D-Denver, and Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, seeks to distribute and lower those costs for women who don’t have employer or state health plans. The motion ultimately passed out of committee on an 8 to 2 vote.

“Women pay up to 59 percent more than men of the same age with 90 percent of private insurance companies, even though as a whole women tend to have less claims than men, irrespective of maternity coverage.” Mcann told the committee.

gender committee   

Schafer said they intentionally wrote a very narrowly focused bill meant to address loopholes that exacerbate gender imbalance.

Insurance companies say that they have reason for charging women more. Maternity is seen strictly as a women’s health problem. This bill, however, is aimed at addressing coverage discrepancies that exist outside of maternity coverage. That issue is being tackled by another bill introduced by McCann this session.

“Basically just being a woman is a pre-existing condition… We wouldn’t discriminate against an African American who needed insurance because we are an equality state,” Schafer said. She added that insurance companies agreed not to oppose the bill. No one had registered with the committee to offer opposing testimony. Eleven people had signed up to speak in favor of the bill.

Members of the committee, however, raised concerns that ant attempt to increase equality would raise rates for men.

Schafer said that in states that had passed these kinds of laws, there was no significant data either way yet on whether rates had raised.

Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, said “Men get sick and die. Women get sick and live.” His point was that women as a group end up costing insurance companies more based on biological and health realities. He listed higher costs associated with treating women. He said that more women suffer from chronic conditions and depression than do men and pointed again to women’s reproductive health needs.

Yet maternity care isn’t covered in private plans. Women pay more for existing plans without maternity coverage. An Anthem insurance personal plan in Colorado, for example, does not cover any maternity or prenatal care. Yet a women carrying the plan pays more than $120 more than a male under the same plan, even if the male is older. The woman simply pays more for being a woman as a category. As the Colorado Independent has reported, male smokers pay less than women nonsmokers.

Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, thought the categories made sense. He said that if gender inequalities are taken away in health, shouldn’t they be taken away in auto insurance. Teenage boys pay more as a group he said, and for well-known reasons.

Swalm voted down the bill, as did Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.

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