Congress May Address Health Coverage Discrimination Against Women, Domestic Violence Victims

The health bills pending in Congress may end the practice of insurance rates based on gender and denials based on a history of domestic abuse.

The health bills being considered in Congress may end "the practice of health insurance rates based on gender and maternity care," McClatchy Newspapers/The Miami Herald reports. "Women of child-bearing age routinely pay more for healthcare because they're women. If they're pregnant, they can be legally denied coverage." Women also "tend to need more preventive care and therefore are subject to more co-pays and deductibles, and single heads of households are often women, meaning they're responsible for the family's healthcare bills."

"Bills moving through Congress would end the longstanding practice of basing rates on gender, which is allowed in most states. Legislation also would eliminate co-pays and deductibles for preventive care, require maternity coverage to be offered at reasonable rates and provide financial help for those who couldn't afford coverage. The changes have widespread support, not only from women's groups but notably from Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive officer of America's Health Insurance Plans, which represents insurers" (Lightman, 10/7).

Kaiser Health News reports on another insurance problem, which often affects women: denials for victims of domestic violence. "Advocates say it's not uncommon for people who have been abused to be denied insurance on the individual market. While the majority of states have barred insurance companies from using abuse as grounds for denying coverage, eight states and the District of Columbia don't prohibit denying coverage for that reason. And even when states do have a law, it doesn't necessarily prevent carriers from initially rejecting applicants who are victims of violence."

The issue is "now is emerging as part of the health care overhaul debate. 'Think of this, you have survived domestic violence and now you are discriminated in the insurance market because you have a pre-existing medical condition,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told leaders from women's organizations at a press conference Tuesday. 'Well, that will all be gone under this legislation,' she promised" (Gold, 10/7).

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