Is Health Insurance Biased Against Women? Maybe Not

Not so much.

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By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Is health insurance biased against women because in many states women pay higher rates when they are younger?

The city of San Francisco is challenging state legislation that allows insurance companies to charge women more than men for health coverage.

In a practice known as gender rating, women in California pay up to 39 percent more than men for coverage in the individual insurance market, which is where people who aren't covered by employer plans or state health programs get their insurance. Nationwide, about 7 percent of women buy their health coverage directly from insurance companies.

At first blush, the answer to my question above is "Of course!" But continue reading the article and you'll find that bias, and cost, are reversed as people age.

Insurance companies have argued that their premiums reflect the actual costs of healthcare. Because women file more insurance claims than men, it makes sense that they should pay more for their coverage, said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans. He noted that as people get older, the gender rating process reverses, with men paying more for their insurance than women.

So if older men have to pay more than older women, is that bias? Or is it simply a market factor that has nothing to do with bias? If elimination of all "differences" between the genders is what passes for bias these days, then the answer to the first question is "Yes." But the point of striving to end bias is not to eliminate all differences between men and women (which is impossible) but to eliminate unfair stereotypes. As long as there are price differences in health insurance (it's always more expensive for older Americans, for example), then charging younger women and older men higher rates does not on its face strike me as bias.