Health Care Costs Hit Women Harder Than Men, Study Finds

Hispanic, lower-income women most affected by higher insurance costs.

May 11, 2011— -- Women, particularly Hispanic and low-income females, have been hit harder than their male counterparts by the weak economy and higher health care costs, according to a new report released today.

Nearly one in three women between the ages of 19 and 64 -- about 27 million of them -- did not have insurance in 2010, the Commonwealth Fund's 2010 Biennial Health Insurance Survey found. Nearly double that number, 45 million, said they delayed or avoided health care coverage because of costs.

Young and Hispanic women, and those with low and moderate incomes, were particularly hard hit. Half of the women whose incomes fell below 133 percent of the poverty line were uninsured last year, while more than half of all Hispanic women fell in that category.

Nearly 50 percent of working-age women surveyed said that because of cost considerations, they could not fill a prescription, skipped a recommended test, treatment or follow-up and did not visit a specialist when they needed to.

"Women have been hard hit because they have greater health needs ... than men," said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation working to improve health-care delivery.

The report found that young women specifically face heavy barriers when looking for coverage. Few plans offer maternity coverage and, overall, most insurance plans have higher premiums for women than they do for men of the same age.

Insurance costs have risen steadily. Average premiums for family coverage have increased 114 percent since 2000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Insurance companies attribute the rise in costs to medical technology, new medicines and more expensive prescription drugs. The overall aging of the population and administrative costs also play a significant role.

Critics of the Affordable Care Act, which has been mocked as "Obamacare," blame the health care law for the rise. A report by Medicare's Office of the Actuary released late last year found that health spending will increase 9.2 percent in 2014 because of the requirements of the new law, and the overall yearly growth in health spending will rise slightly to 6.3 percent.

But the new health care law will also expand coverage to millions more Americans who are uninsured and thus ease the burden on the system, which, according to several reports, will curb costs in the long term.

The Commonwealth Fund's survey also found that women will benefit greatly from the Affordable Care Act. It bars insurance companies from rating women on the basis of their health or gender, requires them to cover preventive services such as mammograms without cost sharing, and offers small business tax credits that would help women-owned businesses.

"The successful implementation of the insurance exchanges will be critical in making sure that everyone's insurance costs are as low as they can be," said Sara Collins, Commonwealth Fund vice president and co-author of the report.