A new study by Harvard Medical School researchers finds that high deductible health insurance plans, which are becoming more popular among employers, result in higher financial burdens for women than men. These plans, which have lower premiums for employers, require patients to pay the first $1,050 to $5,000 of medical costs before receiving insurance benefits. The logic of the politicians and corporations who support these plans, the authors say, is that “high deductible health insurance policies will cut costs by coaxing people to think twice before visiting the emergency department, drug store, or MRI suite. The basic idea is that Americans are too well insured; if they spend their own money… they will spend it more wisely.”
The disproportionate financial impact on women is due to women’s need for more routine visits, including mammograms and Pap tests. Pregnancy-related medical services and a greater diligence among women in seeking care for chronic illnesses also increase women’s annual health expenditures. “High deductible plans punish women for having breasts and uteruses,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, the study’s lead author and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard. “Our costs are higher than men’s because we need Pap tests, cervical cancer vaccine, mammograms and birth control, and because pregnancy is expensive. When employers raise deductibles, they’re giving women a pay cut. And when politicians offer tax breaks for high deductible plans, they’re discriminating against women.”
The researchers found that, in 2006, the median health costs for adult women ages 18 to 64 was $1,000 higher than that of men. Among young adults, women paid almost three times as much as their male counterparts ($1,266 compared to $463). Furthermore, while 69 percent of men had annual health costs under $2,100, only 53.8 percent of women did.
The authors also found that adults ages 45 to 64, people with chronic conditions like asthma or high blood pressure, and children taking medication had far greater financial burdens under high-deductible plans. Said Dr. David U. Himmelstein, one of the study’s authors and a Harvard Medical School Associate Professor, “We need to care for everyone and spread the costs over men and women, young and old, healthy and sick. We need better coverage, not the ever-skimpier plans that politicians are pushing. In short, we need national health insurance with first dollar coverage for all Americans.”