(RNN) - An extra $1 billion a year could go stay the pockets of women after the Affordable Care Act goes into full effect in 2014, according to a report from the National Women's Law Center.
According to the report, little has changed since 2008 when the non-profit group began tracking gender-based differences in healthcare prices: Women pay significantly more for health insurance in every state that hasn't outlawed the practice - without the added benefit of maternity coverage.
From 10 to 85 percent more: the cost of "gender rating"
The practice of setting prices differently depending on gender is known as "gender rating."
"In the capital cities of states that permit gender rating, 92 percent of best-selling plans charge 40-year-old women more than 40-year-old men for identical coverage," the report said.
Only 14 states have legislation banning or limiting gender rating in health insurance prices bought by individuals. Seventeen states have similar laws for group health insurance plans purchased through an employer.
"One plan in South Dakota charges a 40-year-old woman $1,252.80 more [annually] than a 40-year-old man for the same coverage," the report said.
The price differences aren't linked to maternity care, as only 12 percent of plans available on the individual market offer coverage. About 6 percent offer "rider" packages, allowing a woman to opt in to additional charges on an existing health care policy, in this case to cover maternity.
"A plan in Kansas offers a rider that costs over $1,600 a month while even the most expensive best-selling plan for overall coverage in the state only costs $222.76 a month," the report said.
With the estimated 7.5 million women who buy health insurance on the independent market, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the NWLC estimates that women are paying approximately $1 billion more than men for identical coverage each year.
Researchers at the NWLC focused on the disparities between prices on the individual market, as information on group plans is not typically available to the public. Using eHealthInsurance.com, an online provider of health insurance estimates, researchers compared rates for men and women aged 25, 40 and 55 in 48 states and Washington DC.
Estimates were not available for policies in Maine or Rhode Island.
No standard expected risk for insuring women
The report found that in comparable plans, women could be asked to pay up to 85 percent more than men, as in the case of a 25-year-old woman comparing prices in Wyoming. On the other hand, a comparable plan from a different insurer in the state costs just 30 percent more than a similar plan for men.
Although health insurance providers have argued that women use services more than men, the variety of price differences between and within states suggest that extra charges have nothing to do with a standard expected risk associated with insuring a woman.
In some cases, the disparity between rates for men and women is so large that non-smoking women are charged more than male smokers.
Of the best-selling plans the NWLC reviewed, 56 percent charged 40-year-old non-smoking women more than 40-year-old males who smoke.
The Affordable Care Act
Researchers found that insurers were doing little, if anything at all, to close the gap in coverage costs.
In 2008, 93 percent of health insurance plans reviewed by the NWLC practiced gender rating, slightly less than the 95 percent who used gender rating in 2009.
The Affordable Care Act, which will go into full effect Jan. 1, 2014, will make this practice illegal across the country and mandate that individual healthcare providers add maternity coverage to their plans.
However, a number of Americans have fought back against the Act, specifically the stipulation that individuals must be insured or face possible fines. Some have argued that the mandate makes the Act unconstitutional.
On March 26, the Supreme Court will hear arguments against the Act, looking specifically at its constitutionality. If the Court finds that the mandate violates the Constitution, it will have to rule on whether the stipulation can be repealed without repealing the entire Act.
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