Updated July 7 at 9:26pm

Gender rating: is it discrimination or simple math?

By Bob McGovern
Contributing Writer
Riding the coattails of the federal Affordable Care Act, Rhode Island lawmakers are considering major steps to eliminate “gender rating” in the state’s health-insurance industry. The practice, which has been called everything from “discriminatory” against women to “simply data-driven,” could be eradicated in the Ocean State by 2015, under a Senate-passed bill.

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Focus: LAW

Gender rating: is it discrimination or simple math?

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Riding the coattails of the federal Affordable Care Act, Rhode Island lawmakers are considering major steps to eliminate “gender rating” in the state’s health-insurance industry. The practice, which has been called everything from “discriminatory” against women to “simply data-driven,” could be eradicated in the Ocean State by 2015, under a Senate-passed bill.

On May 14, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would effectively piggyback on ACA provisions that will prevent health-insurance companies from gender rating in individual policies or for small groups with up to 50 covered by 2014. The bill must now be approved by the House.

The Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, said the legislation would prevent insurance companies from viewing an individual’s sex as a “pre-existing condition.”

“It should be equal protection, and it should be equal fairness for all when it comes to insurance. The way it’s gone all these years doesn’t make any sense to me,” she said.

In the context of the Rhode Island bill, gender rating is the practice of charging women higher health-insurance premiums during their child-bearing years. According to Monica Neronha, vice president of legal services for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the rationale is that women in that age range (20 to 40 years old) tend to use health care services more than men in the same age group.

“It’s establishing a rate based on someone’s gender. It’s not an uncommon practice in the insurance industry. Life-insurance rates, for example, vary based on age and gender,” she said. “Women get lower life-insurance rates because they have a different life expectancy. Similarly, women have lower motor-vehicle premiums because they are safer drivers.”

The National Women’s Law Center sees the practice as overtly discriminatory toward women. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit researched gender ratings in every state using data gleaned from eHealthInsurance.com, a public company that lists sales quotes for a variety of health-insurance plans. The NWLC published its findings in a report entitled, “Turning to Fairness: Insurance Discrimination Against Women Today and the Affordable Care Act.” Data on Rhode Island health-insurance plans was not available.

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