To your health, ladies

Insurance industry tells Congress it's willing to end the practice of charging women more.

Published May 5, 2009 8:53PM (EDT)

The health insurance industry today told Congress it is willing to stop the practice of charging women higher premiums than men for similar policies, the Associated Press reported today. It was just the industry's latest concession in its ongoing talks with Congress, as lawmakers debate how to reform healthcare.

In many states, women routinely pay more for insurance, in part because both young and old women are more likely to go to the doctor for regular checkups than men, National Public Radio reported. For women in their baby-making years, the higher charges also reflect the fact that they might have a child with all the associated prenatal visits and delivery costs.

Ten states -- Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington -- already ban the practice of charging women more for insurance just because they're female. But where it still exists, the gender penalty can be substantial: "For example, in California, women pay up to 39 percent more than men for similar individual policies, even when maternity benefits are excluded," NPR's Sarah Vaney reported in April.

The concession from the healthcare industry today came as the Senate Finance Committee conveyed a roundtable on covering the uninsured. In March, the health insurance industry offered to stop charging people with a history of medical problems a premium for their policies, too.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling a little better already, thanks.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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