This week, Fox News host Sean Hannity scoffed at the idea that women face discriminatory practices from the health insurance industry, arguing that it is "disinformation" to claim that repeal of the health care reform law, which bans such practices, will again subject women to unfair and discriminatory treatment by insurers. In fact, the law bans insurance companies from its current practice of charging women higher premiums for the same coverage as men, and forbids insurers from listing pregnancy as a pre-existing condition, which was often used by some providers as an excuse to deny coverage.
DNC's Wasserman Schultz: Affordable Care Act Bans Discriminatory Health Insurance Practices Against Women
Rep. Wasserman Schultz: Mitt Romney Favors Going Back To "A Time When Insurance Companies Could Drop Us Or Deny Us Coverage Simply Because Of Our Gender." On MSNBC, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stated:
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It's clear that Mitt Romney is dramatically out of touch with women on the issues and the priorities that matter to us. You know, wanting to take us back to a time when insurance companies could drop us or deny us coverage simply because of our gender being considered a pre-existing condition, charging us up to 50 percent more simply because we're women, focusing on not making sure that we can have access to affordable birth control and taking us back to a time when we had to worry about that.
Those are things -- I have never been more concerned, Martin, in my life. In my generation of women has never been more concerned where my rights that I have accepted and taken for granted for far too long are in jeopardy if Mitt Romney becomes president of the United States -- as a woman.. [MNSBC, Martin Bashir, 4/23/12]
Fox Accuses Wasserman Schultz Of "Disinformation," "Demagoguery"
Hannity: Rep. Wasserman Schultz Spreading "Disinformation" On Health Care. After playing a clip of Rep. Wasserman Schultz's comments, Hannity said that "all this disinformation [is] an attempt to sway the opinions of the American people. But guess what, congresswoman? They're smart enough to figure this out." [Fox News, Hannity, 4/25/12]
Malkin Accused Wasserman Schultz Of "Demagoguery" And Of Being A Part Of "The Unreality-Based Community." Reacting to Wasserman Schultz's statement on health care, Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin said: "I have to give Debbie Wasserman Schultz credit, she's the Energizer Bunny of Democratic demagoguery, and I think a card-carrying member of the unreality-based community." [Fox News, Hannity, 4/25/12]
In Fact, Women Routinely Face "Unfair And Discriminatory Practices" In Health Insurance Market
Congressional Investigation Found Major Health Insurance Companies Routinely Denied Coverage To Expectant Mothers. From an October 2010 House Energy and Commerce Committee memo on maternity coverage in the individual health insurance market:
Women who are pregnant, expectant fathers, and families attempting to adopt children are generally unable to obtain health insurance in the individual market. The four largest for-profit health insurance companies, Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, and WellPoint, have each listed pregnancy as a medical condition that would result in an automatic denial of individual health insurance coverage. Health insurance companies also sometimes exclude from coverage expectant fathers, candidates for surrogacy whether they are the surrogate or recipient, and those in the process of adoption.
Women who are pregnant cannot obtain individual health insurance from the four largest for-profit health insurance companies, Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, and WellPoint. All four insurance companies refuse to provide coverage to applicants who have "pre-existing conditions." Each of the health insurance companies considers pregnancy to be a pre-existing condition that results in an automatic denial of health insurance coverage. [House Energy and Commerce Committee, 10/12/10, emphasis in original]
PolitiFact: Pregnancy Was Considered A "Pre-Existing Condition" In Individual Insurance Market In 39 States. In an August 18, 2009, article titled, "Pregnancy a 'pre-existing condition'? Yes, for some," PolitiFact wrote:
In 39 states, listed here, insurers can turn down anyone for virtually any reason. It can be because you have a pre-existing condition, like cancer or diabetes. And pregnancy almost always counts too, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which represents the state government officials who regulate insurance sold within their borders. So if you're pregnant and living in one of these 39 states, you're very likely out of luck in securing individual health coverage. You'll have to pay for your care out of your own pocket or seek out charitable assistance.
And the coverage isn't much better in the remaining 11 states. These states have "guaranteed issue" laws that say insurers cannot turn applicants down based on their health or risk status. But there's a caveat: Even if an insurer must offer you a plan, it can place exclusions on what the plan covers. Typically, the NAIC says, these exclusions last from six to 12 months, which rules out most or all maternity coverage. (After the exclusion expires, the insurer does have to cover those conditions, meaning that a subsequent pregnancy could be covered.)
Health care reform legislation under consideration in Congress would, if enacted, improve the situation for pregnant women seeking health insurance by prohibiting restrictions based on pre-existing conditions. But for now ... pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition and prevents many women from getting coverage if they seek insurance on the individual market. [PolitiFact, 8/19/09]
National Women's Law Center: Women Still Face "Unfair And Discriminatory Practices" In Individual Health Insurance Market. In its March 2012 report "Turning to Fairness: Insurance discrimination against women today and the Affordable Care Act," the National Women's Law Center found that women "continue to face unfair and discriminatory practices when obtaining health insurance in the individual market -- as well as in the group health insurance market. Women are charged more for health coverage simply because they are women, and individual market health plans often exclude coverage for services that only women need, like maternity care. Furthermore, insurance companies -- despite being aware of these discriminatory practices -- have not voluntarily taken steps to eliminate the inequities." The report showed:
Gender rating, the practice of charging women different premiums than men, results in significantly higher rates charged to women throughout the country. In states that have not banned the practice, the vast majority, 92%, of best-selling plans gender rate, for example, charging 40-year-old women more than 40-year-old men for coverage. Only 3% of these plans cover maternity services.
[National Women's Law Center, March 2012]
NY Times: "Women Still Pay More Than Men For The Same Health Insurance Coverage." In an article titled "Gender Gap Persists in Cost of Health Insurance," The New York Times reported:
Women still pay more than men for the same health insurance coverage, according to new research and data from online brokers.
The new health care law will prohibit such "gender rating," starting in 2014. But gaps persist in most states, with no evidence that insurers have taken steps to reduce them. [The New York Times, 3/19/12]
Affordable Care Act Bans These Discriminatory Practices
Affordable Care Act Bans Denial Of Coverage To Women Based On Gender, Charging Women More For Health Insurance. From a fact sheet on the Affordable Care Act from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
The health care law protects women by providing insurance options, covering preventive services, and lowering costs:
Insurance Companies Can't Deny Coverage to Women. Before the Affordable Care Act became law, insurance companies selling individual policies could deny coverage to women due to pre-existing conditions, such as cancer and having been pregnant. Under the law, insurance companies are already banned from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. In 2014, it will be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against anyone with a pre-existing condition.
Women Pay Lower Health Care Costs. Before the law, women could be charged more for individual insurance policies simply because of their gender. A 22-year-old woman could be charged 150% the premium that a 22-year-old man paid. In 2014, insurers will not be able to charge women higher premiums than they charge men. [HealthCare.gov, accessed 4/26/12]
Insurance Gender Discrimination Will Be Prohibited By Law In 2014. A map from the progressive organization Fuse Washington and based on data from the National Women's Law Center shows the contrast between the higher premiums women face without the Affordable Care Act and once the law is fully implemented:
[Mother Jones, 3/27/12]