Female workforce pays more for health benefits

Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Section 1557 is the civil rights provision of the Affordable Care Act.  Section 1557 prohibits discrimination on the ground of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability under “any health program or activity, any part of which is receiving Federal financial assistance … or under any program or activity that is administered by an Executive agency or any entity established under [Title I of ACA]….”   Section 1557 is the first Federal civil rights law to prohibit sex discrimination in health care.  To ensure equal access to health care, Section 1557 also applies civil rights protections to the newly created Health Insurance Marketplaces established under the Affordable Care Act.


Behind in Pay, Behind in Benefits

By Beth Umland
Mercer, October 17, 2014

It’s well known that working women earn less money than their male counterparts, but they may also be at a disadvantage when it comes to health benefits. Using data from Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, we compared companies with workforces that are 65% female or more to those with workforces that are 65% male or more. About half of the mostly female companies are in health care and about a quarter are in the services sector, while mostly male companies are found predominately in manufacturing. The percentage of employees in collective bargaining agreements is about the same for the two groups, at just under 15%. Not surprisingly, when the workforce is mostly female, the average salary is about $10,000 less than when the workforce is mostly male.

Pay and benefits tend to go hand in hand. The health benefits at organizations with predominantly female workforces are also less generous than in those with predominantly male workforces. Because women generally use health services more than men, the disparity in benefit levels has an even greater financial impact. Women use maternity services, and childbirth, the leading cause of hospitalization in the US, accounts for a quarter of all hospital stays. We found that average employee contributions as a monthly dollar amount are higher in mostly female companies: For coverage in a PPO, the most common type of medical plan, the monthly contribution for family coverage is 31% higher. In addition, average in-network and out-of-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums are consistently higher. For example, the average in-network PPO deductibles in mostly female companies are $727 and $1,614, respectively, for individual and family coverage, compared to $557 and $1,318 at mostly male companies.

And the benefit gap doesn't end with active employment. Mostly male companies are also more likely to offer retiree medical benefits - 27% offer medical coverage to pre-Medicare-eligible retirees, compared to just 19% of the mostly female companies.

Currently, about a third (36%) of companies with mostly female workforces do not provide coverage to all employees working an average of 30 or more hours per week. They will be required to do so in 2015.



By Don McCanne, MD

It's shameful. Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) specifically prohibits discrimination based on sex, employers are still able to provide plans that are based on the underwriting characteristics of their employees. This Mercer report compares workforces that are over 65% female with those over 65% male and shows that females receive less generous health benefits - paying 31% more for deductibles and 31% more for the premium contribution for family coverage.

This is a direct result of the fact that ACA was designed to perpetuate employer-sponsored health plans. Had Congress enacted a single payer national health program instead, not only would sex-based underwriting have been eliminated, the financing of the entire health care system would have been changed to an equitable system based strictly on ability to pay.

Female workforces are paid about $10,000 less than male workforces. Under single payer, their share of health care financing would have been less than for males, since income taxes are progressive. For men who might think it is unfair that women should pay less in health care taxes, they could help fix that by supporting pay equity.