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Women and Health Insurance

When it comes to women's health insurance, there is a misconception that there is different insurance for women then for men. In fact, this is not true, but there are differences in the way women use their health insurance, and in the way they interact with the health care system. Because of this, when choosing health coverage it is important to account for the special needs women have.

Women's Health Concerns:

Some of the special concerns that women have when it comes to health care are:

  • Recurring reproductive health. In addition to a primary care physician, women also need to have a regular gynecologist or obstetrician. Visits to these specialists cover everything from family planning to breast and ovarian cancer screening, and increase during pregnancy or the initial stage of menopause.
  • Women see doctors more often than men. On average, women visit their primary care physicians 50% more frequently than men do, partly because they use medical care for screening more than men, and partly because women tend to live longer, and health care needs increase as people age.

In addition to specifically health-related issues, women have vastly different interactions with the health care system than men. Part of this is because is due to the fact that women are generally responsible for selecting doctors for their children, coordinating appointments, and taking children to those appointments, but there are other factors at play as well. Consider the following:

  • Up to 31% of employed women work in nonstandard jobs (including self-employment), and do not receive health benefits through their work. This makes women 15% less likely to be offered employer-based insurance benefits,.
  • While 2/3 of women (and men) who are employed have health insurance through their work, they are more likely to be covered as dependents, rather than carrying insurance in their own names, leaving them at risk for losing their insurance if their husband's job changes, if they become widowed, or if they divorce.
  • According to a 2002 survey, among women between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four, 26% were covered as dependents and only 40% had employer-provided health insurance in their own name. (Conversely 53% of men had their health insurance in their own name). In addition, in the 35-to-44-year-old age bracket, three times more women than men were covered as dependents.
  • As women age, their insurance needs also increase, and their likelihood of coverage decreases. Because women are often younger than their spouses, they are more likely to be uninsured after the age of fifty-five, either because they have been widowed, or because their husbands have become eligible for Medicare, and dropped their private coverage.

All of these factors make it crucial to consider adding private health care insurance to any insurance policy you buy. As well, when shopping for women's health insurance, whether privately, or through your company benefits plan, there are specific questions that should be asked:

  • Can I choose my own gynecologist or do I have to use an approved referral?
  • Can I schedule routine gynecological exams without a referral from my primary care physician?
  • Is family planning covered? If so, does that include prescription coverage for birth control?
  • Are annual mammograms covered after the age of forty?
  • Am I covered for regular screenings for ovarian and cervical cancer?
  • If I'm going through an HMO, do they have gynecologists of my preferred gender on staff, if I'm not comfortable seeing a male doctor?
  • Am I covered for hormone replacement therapy?

Health insurance is increasingly expensive, but the alternative is to risk exorbitant medical care costs, even for routine procedures. If you are not covered by an employee benefit plan, either in your own name, or as a dependent, be assured that there are health plans that address women's health needs at reasonable rates.