According to a recent report on NPR, over 90 percent of individual insurance providers currently charge significantly more for women than they do for men. In fact, 50 percent of them would charge higher premiums to a forty year-old, non-smoking woman than they would a forty year-old, male smoker. This is largely due to the fact that women’s bodies, being capable of becoming pregnant and giving birth, typically require more medical care than men. As it stands, a provision in the Affordable Care Act due for implementation in 2014 will ban this practice, known as gender rating. According to polls, 6 out of 10 voters questioned favor this provision.
Various arguments have been made in support of gender rating. Some say that those who require more care should pay more for their coverage, regardless of whether it is due to unhealthy practices, genetic disorders, or the simple matter of gender. In more religious camps, arguments have been made that if a person’s tax dollars go to providing care for procedures and prescriptions that go against that tax payer’s religious beliefs, such as contraception or abortion, then that counts as an infringement of the tax payer’s First Amendment rights. Those who hold such a viewpoint often stress that while freedom of religion is stated as a right in the constitution, access to healthcare is not.
While that is very true, the counterargument could be made that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion, and the right to not be persecuted for not following a given organized faith. If a woman who depends on oral contraceptive therapy to treat the bleeding disorder Von Willebrand’s disease is denied access to affordable hormonal therapy due to an assertion of religious rights, does that count as religious persecution? Taking the idea further, it is worth noting that medical decisions of any kind are deeply personal, and vulnerable to scrutiny or judgment if held up for public evaluation. If taxpayers want a voice in what procedures and prescriptions a patient has access to due to religious beliefs, wouldn’t that have to apply to all patients, male and female?
Some opponents of Obamacare state that this is the best reason to leave the healthcare market as is. With everyone looking after their own concerns, the money that goes into healthcare stays as privatized as the decisions themselves. No one would have to worry that their tax dollars would go to support what they view as immoral behavior. A possible rebuttal to this argument points to the fact that throughout the nation’s history, tax dollars have gone to causes that not all citizens would not approve of. While they have paid for universally accepted and cherished institutions such as schools, police and fire departments, and safe infrastructure, they have also supported wars that citizens objected to, subsidies for corporations who send jobs overseas and/or treat workers poorly, and other questionable decisions. By this, one could expect that while tax dollars are spent on many things beneficial to all, we can not realistically expect to approve of every spending decision made by the government.
There is also the familiar point of vulnerability. Perhaps it is fair that, since women get pregnant, give birth, and need extra medical care to keep their reproductive systems healthy, they do pay more. However, this presumes a certain gender autonomy that is not terribly realistic. The women who need the extra care are not only someone’s mother, sister, grandmother, or daughter, but could be one’s physician, lawyer, teacher, or job creator. In a nation where the citizens depend on one another so strongly in their everyday lives, is it better for all to make sure everyone receives equal access to care, and that half aren’t left vulnerable?
What do you think? In needing extra medical care, should women continue to be expected to pay more for coverage? Does the fact that the extra care often revolves around maternity and reproduction sway you in any way? Should we maintain private healthcare to avoid indirectly paying for medical choices we do not agree with? Or are you willing to let such judgments go for the sake of supporting the welfare and well-being of all Americans? Please share your thoughts in our comments.