The Affordable Care Act stipulated that employers should charge the same health insurance premiums for men and women in what was lauded as a key move to provide equity and access for women.
But a new report shows that employed women are spending 20% more on healthcare services out of pocket, compared to men, in a review of 2021 claims. That difference only dropped to 18% when excluding maternity care and pregnancy.
That's according to Deloitte, which showed women ages 19-64 are paying as much as $15.4 billion per year, compounding the financial burden of income inequity and the "pink tax" — known as the extra costs paid for products marketed to women that are similar to men's products — on women, even when adjusting for maternity costs.
"We are spending more for healthcare as a product and getting less in the same way we're spending more for our razors, our lotions, our shampoos, and conditioners," said Dr. Kulleni Gebreyes, US chief health equity officer at Deloitte.
She explained that the $15.4 billion equals about $266 per woman per year in the country.
"If you said births cost $20,000 per woman, that's 750,000 deliveries we could do for free if we could actually capture the value of this money," Gebreyes said.
The report tried to whittle down to the root cause of this excess in spend, including more frequent imaging and scans, especially for breast cancer, which cost more than other cancer scans, and more frequent doctor's visits, such as annual gynecological appointments and menopausal transitions, among other reasons.
Gebreyes noted an oft-cited statistic is that women outlive men, but that comes at the expense of more healthcare services due to higher rates of chronic conditions or healthcare needs, she said. All of these are caught by extra doctor's visits and screenings that are recommended for women, causing the excess in spend. And the solution isn't as simple as stopping the extra usage of health services.
"And for anybody out there who says women should change their healthcare spending patterns ... when you compare total health expenditures, there is a 10% difference. Women spend 10% more but they pay 18% more — so that leads to the actuarial value that women have is actually less," Gebreyes said.
So what can be done? Gebreyes said employers have the responsibility to figure out how to design benefit plans that cover more of the services needed by women — with the end result being healthier and more productive employees.
"Health insurance is a product, but the additional expenditures incurred by women, which have received relatively less attention in recent studies, are now becoming more apparent. Health care insurers and employers have an opportunity to examine and redesign benefit coverage to help reduce the financial burden placed on women," the report said.
It's a sentiment shared by Andy Davis, principal of Deloitte's health care practice.
"Equity in benefits is the next challenge to address because benefits should be designed to support every person," Davis said in a statement. "Women’s care needs are different than men, and health care insurers and employers have an opportunity to examine and redesign benefit coverage to reduce the financial burden on women, close the benefit gap, and advance health and well-being for everyone."
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