Friday, March 23, 2012

What A Surprise...

The March 23, 2012 Idaho Statesman carries this thinly disguised press release:

Women in Idaho pay hundreds of dollars more a year for health insurance, and the pattern applies across age groups, according to a national report. But many insurance plans in the Gem State do often include maternity coverage, which isn't the norm in the U.S.
Idaho's best-selling insurance plans add more, on average, to a 40-year-old woman's insurance premiums than anywhere else in the country, the National Women's Law Center found. The gap costs women enrolled in two of the top health plans $684 and $722 more each year.
The group looked at advertised premiums for top-selling plans through It also looked at the number of women buying health insurance in Idaho. The NWLC concluded that price disparities were so prevalent and unpredictable that "it is difficult to see how actuarial justifications could explain the difference."
If the disparities are "prevalent" then how can they qualify as "unpredictable"?  That seems contradictory.  But the bigger problem is that women pay more for health insurance than men because women use health care more than men.  From the abstract of "Gender Differences in the Utilization of Health Care Services," Journal of Family Practice, February 2000:
RESULTS: Women had significantly lower self-reported health status and lower mean education and income than men. Women had a significantly higher mean number of visits to their primary care clinic and diagnostic services than men. Mean charges for primary care, specialty care, emergency treatment, diagnostic services, and annual total charges were all significantly higher for women than men; however, there were no differences for mean hospitalizations or hospital charges. After controlling for health status, sociodemographics, and clinic assignment, women still had higher medical charges for all categories of charges except hospitalizations. 
I hope that this is not a surprise to anyone.  I don't know how much of this is related to childbirth and related equipment, or because women have higher health expectations than men, or if there are actual biological reasons for this.  I will even concede the possibility that women have worse health because of social pressures. But the fact is that women use health care services a lot more than men; is it really a surprise that their health insurance costs more?

UPDATE: From "The Lifetime Distribution of Health Care Costs," Health Services Research, June 2004:
Per capita lifetime expenditure is $316,600, a third higher for females ($361,200) than males ($268,700). Two-fifths of this difference owes to women's longer life expectancy.  
If 2/5th of this difference is longer life expectancy, than 3/5th of the 1/3 higher (or 20%) of the difference is not because of high life expectancy.


Greg said...

I have thought of this as a possible consequence of requiring coverage for birth control for women...and the likely outcry from women's activists. And my response is- what about higher auto insurance rates for young men versus young women?

Hal Duston said...

I charted out rates for a particular set of policies in my one region of Missouri. From birth to age 13, rates are identical for males and females. They both start quite high and quickly drop to a valley from age 5 to 13. From age 13 female rates increase more rapidly than male rates to nearly 50% more at age 35. After 35 the gap begins to narrow again, and after age 57, male rate suprass female rates until age 64 when this set of policies are no longer available.

Windy Wilson said...

You know, this disparity in insurance costs for women vs men was not an issue when it was auto insurance. Of course for auto insurance the cost differential worked the other way due to differences in accident rate.
If we're going to get health insurance premium rates that amalgamate and average the insurance costs for men and women, and apply the same rate to both sexes, why not do the same for Auto Insurance?
I know, different issue, different ox, different goring.