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When it comes to health insurance in the United States, being a woman can mean paying more. The new health law is designed to end the disparity and it has other special provisions in it for women. NPR's Joanne Silberner reports on how women's dealings with health insurers will change under the new law.
JOANNE SILBERNER: Marcia Greenberger has bothered by the disparities for years. She's co-president of the national women's law center, a nonprofit advocacy group that worked hard to influence what was in the final legislation.
Ms. MARCIA GREENBERGER (Co-president, National Woman's Law Center): The truth is those women have really gotten the short end of the stick in health care, in many, many ways. And as a result, have an enormous amount to gain from this health care bill.
SILBERNER: One of those women who could gain is Jenifer Wilson, who helps organize and produce events like the Olympics. Seven years ago, when Wilson was 31 years old, she had an unplanned pregnancy. She and her husband had an insurance policy, but it turned out it didn't include maternity benefits. They realized they had to do something about coverage.
Ms. JENIFER WILSON: And we quickly found out that the only way that you could even get maternity is if you self-pay into the plan.
SILBERNER: Self-pay where they pay their insurer an extra $350 a month, starting before conception. Wilson was essentially uninsured. She ended up having to pay out-of-pocket for what turned out to be an emergency caesarean section. Then she and her husband went looking for another insurance policy.
Ms. WILSON: And that's when we realized that since I had the c-section, previously, I wasn't even eligible for the pay in plan anymore, because they saw it as a pre-existing condition.
SILBERNER: As free lancers, she and her husband were looking into plans just for their family. That means without the protections and discounts you get in a group plan from a mid- to large-sized employer, the kind most people have. So Wilson took a job at Lowes. It meant a 50 percent cut in income, but it came with health insurance.
Women have faced other problems, as well, says Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center. Her group has found insurance policies in some states that cost a woman 50 percent more than it would cost a man, even 85 percent more, and these policies don't cover pregnancies. That, she says, will go away with the new health insurance shopping marts, the so-called exchanges scheduled to start up in 2014.
Ms. GREENBERGER: Any individual woman or a person who's trying to buy insurance through a small employer or a small-group plan, through the exchange, will be able to buy that insurance without having to pay the extra premium for being a woman. And maternity is also required to be included.
SILBERNER: There are more benefits for women in the new law, including women insured by medium and large employers. For example, starting next year no co-payments for preventive services like mammograms and pap smears. And businesses that employ 50 or more people will have to provide a place and time for nursing mothers to be able to lactate.
The new law does include many provisions that will help women, says Gail Wilensky. She's an economist who headed Medicare during the first President Bush's administration. But there's one thing, she says, people shouldn't forget.
Ms. GAIL WILENSKY (Economist): In the short term, at least, they're going to bump up the cost of health care. All of these will increase the cost of insurance, along with various other provisions.
SILBERNER: Including another provision women might like. The requirement, that starting five months from now, new health insurance plans must permit women to see obstetrician/gynecologists without first getting authorization from a primary care doctor.
Joanne Silberner, NPR News.
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