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Report: 37 states allow health coverage gender bias

In 37 states, it's legal to deny women health insurance because they're women, according to a report in the December edition of Prevention magazine. The same report says 95 percent of insurance companies that offer individual health plans practice "gender rating," or gender-related denials.

Diane Salvatore, Prevention's editor in chief, explained women can pay 84 percent more than men, because they use health care services more frequently.

She said, "It's called gender rating. Men pay less, women pay more. ... We at Prevention feel women should be rewarded and applauded for using health care services."

"Early Show" co-anchor Betty Nguyen remarked that it would seem, if you catch a disease before it gets out of control, there would be less cost for treatment.

Salvatore said, "It sure does. Not only is this practice legal and rampant, but we think it's outrageous for exactly that reason. Not only does it lower health care costs for the whole system overall, if you're going ... it actually saves lives."

She added, "Health insurance companies, first of all, don't have to tell you why you are denied. But when you ask them, health insurance companies are unapologetic about that. They say it's good business practice."

Dr. Holly Phillips, a general internist, said insurers should want people to see the doctor earlier. She said, "Really, the more you see the doctor -- women tend to see the doctor earlier and at younger ages -- they catch things earlier, they have prevention, early detection and early treatment, which ironically saves insurers money."

Salvatore added, "Having a quadruple bypass is more expensive than it is to go every year."

Phillips said, "And certainly, almost all cancers, if caught in stage 1, it is a fraction of the cost to treat someone than if you wait until stage 4."

Nguyen asked, "Are you surprised this is legal?"

"We are," Salvatore said. "Everybody we tell is shocked. They can't believe it's America in 2011. In fact, if you go back to the '60s, health insurance companies actually self-regulated. They used to charge more based on race. They don't anymore. We at Prevention believe health insurance companies should step up and change their practices now.

"It's been going on for decades, and more Americans are at risk as companies charge more and people are out of work. And you have to have individual health insurance policies."

Phillips said women need to approach companies with a focus on competitive pricing.

She said, "You are the person with the power. You can shop around. You can take your money elsewhere. That forces companies to be competitive. If you threaten to take your business elsewhere, they will more likely capitulate and do something for you."

If you are in one of the 13 states where it is illegal to do gender rating, Salvatore said, you can fight back if you feel you've been denied or charged more based on gender. She said, "You can go to your health insurance state commission to make a case. You also want group coverage as much as possible. So if you had health insurance, (and suddenly) you don't, make sure you're on your partner, your husband's group plan. Some trades and professions have group plans. You know, if you're a lawyer, teacher or mechanic. You know, lastly the Affordable Health Care Act goes into effect in 2014. But between now and then this can happen to you. Let your state representative know that you want that act not to be taken apart. There is political opposition to it."

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