Stark: Healthcare repeal would hurt women's access to coverage, care

A top Democrat warned Wednesday that repealing the healthcare reform law would recreate a system where women typically pay more than men for their health coverage.  

"Health reform limits the ability of insurers to charge women and older individuals higher premiums for the same policy," Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), chairman of the Ways and Means health subpanel, said in a statement. "The Republican pledge to repeal would give insurers free range to discriminate against these individuals and charge them more for health insurance."

A central element of the Democrats' healthcare law is the provision prohibiting insurers from denying coverage or setting rates based on gender, health status, genetic information or evidence of domestic violence, among other things.

The law also requires all new health insurance plans to provide women's preventive care — things like mammograms — at no additional cost to the patient.

Those provisions were designed to make health coverage more affordable for women, who tend to pay more for insurance for the simple reason that they typically use more healthcare services than men of the same age. The National Women's Law Center reported in 2008 that insurance companies were known to charge women as much as 48 percent more than men for individual coverage. 

From the market's perspective, the discrepancy makes perfect sense. But healthcare advocates have been quick to point out that the higher costs also leave women at a distinct disadvantage. 

"Because insurance carriers consider women, particularly young women, a higher risk than men, women experience more difficulty obtaining coverage from the individual market and are charged much higher premiums for the same benefits than men of the same age," health experts at the Commonwealth Fund wrote in July. "Women’s higher health care costs mean that they are more likely than men to experience problems paying medical bills — their own and those of family members."

Republican leaders are vowing to repeal the law and replace it with more market-based alternatives, but the details of their plan remain spare. It is unclear, for instance, how they could repeal the individual insurance mandate — among the most controversial of the Democrats' reforms — while retaining popular consumer protections, including the ban on gender discrimination.

Stark's warning Wednesday was the latest in a string of statements the California Democrat has released this month in an effort to highlight the consumer benefits that would be lost if the healthcare law were repealed.