Marketized Health Care = More Costs Piled Onto Women

Robert Pear’s piece “Women Buying Health Policies Pay a Penalty” describes one more sad side effect of efforts to make health insurance coverage more of a market:

Insurers say they have a sound reason for charging different premiums: Women ages 19 to 55 tend to cost more than men because they typically use more health care, especially in the childbearing years. But women still pay more than men for insurance that does not cover maternity care. In the individual market, maternity coverage may be offered as an optional benefit, or rider, for a hefty additional premium.

To the extent insurance spread risk, we’d see less of this. But as market forces subvert that function of insurance, we should expect any group with higher-than-normal costs to bear higher-than-normal burdens–even if they have no control over such costs.

The market may do some magic, but it can’t reward women for the burden of childbearing. It can’t combat (and it may well promote) the continuing wage disparities between men and women. So to the extent we rely on it to distribute vital human goods, we settle into a system where women alone have to take the career hit childbearing entails, and often get saddled with a disproportionate share of responsibilities for children’s upbringing–and on top of all this they have to pay more for health insurance!

Aware of such trends, Prof. Elizabeth Schiltz wrote a superb article entitled “Should Bearing the Child Mean Bearing All the Cost? A Catholic Perspective on the Sacrifice of Motherhood and the Common Good” (in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 15 (2007)). In our upcoming presidential election, it’s fascinating to see how seriously one candidate takes this problem–and how eagerly the other would continue to segment risk pools.

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