News Law and Policy

Four Insurance Companies Accused of Widespread Sex Discrimination

Jessica Mason Pieklo

In a series of complaints, the National Women's Law Center claims four insurance companies are charging women more for long-term care policies, and states are complicit in the discrimination.

On Thursday, attorneys for the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) filed a series of complaints accusing four of the nation’s largest insurance companies of sex discrimination, in violation of the Affordable Care Act.

The complaints, believed to be the first of their kind, were filed with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Health and Human Services. They allege that Genworth Financial, John Hancock, Transamerica, and Mutual of Omaha are improperly “gender rating” long-term insurance policies by charging women more than men for the same coverage. Long-term care insurance policies differ from traditional health insurance policies by reimbursing policyholders a set amount, often calculated daily and up to a pre-set limit, for services to assist them with day-to-day living activities. Long-term care policies were created to fill the gap in significant expenses related to aging, like personal attendant care.

Normally long-term care policies are priced based on a variety of factors, including the age of the person purchasing the policy and the limits of the policy itself. But, according to the complaints, these companies also considered an applicant’s sex, charging more for policies written for women. That practice, the NWLC claims, violates the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination rule. That rule prevents insurance companies from discriminating in terms of coverage on a number of factors, including a person’s sex, race, age, national origin, and gender identity. “By gender rating their long-term care insurance policies, these companies are charging women 20 to 40 percent more than men for the same product,” said NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger in a statement. “Requiring women to pay higher prices just because they are women is wrong, unfair and, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, is now illegal sex discrimination.”

Long-term care policies have become more popular as the Baby Boom generation enters retirement. According to the NWLC, as of 2010, between seven million and nine million Americans had long-term care insurance policies, and approximately 57 percent of those policyholders were women. The health-care law “has already made great strides in improving women’s health care and combating sex discrimination,” Greenberger said. “The Center is calling on OCR to take all necessary steps to investigate these complaints and ensure that women are not overcharged in the long-term care insurance market.”

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According to the NWLC, the scope of the discrimination reaches nationwide, in part because encouraging long-term care coverage is a goal in the Affordable Care Act. Each company named in the complaint participates in long-term care partnerships in states across the country. These partnerships are joint efforts among federal and state Medicaid programs, state agencies, and private long-term care insurers that encourage individuals to purchase approved long-term care insurance policies. So far, 45 states have or are planning to establish such long-term care partnerships.

The fact that states operate in partnership with these companies means these states are complicit in the sex discrimination, the NWLC explains. In addition to the complaints against the insurance companies, the NWLC also filed complaints against state government agencies operating these partnerships in Kentucky, Minnesota, and Washington. According to the NWLC, these states were chosen because they illustrate that the problem reaches every corner of the country. “Women already have a hard enough time making ends meet, earning only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men,” said NWLC Vice-President and General Counsel Emily Martin in a statement. “With lower wages to begin with, women simply can’t afford to pay 20 to 40 percent more than men for the same long-term care insurance.”

The complaints request that the companies be banned from participating in these programs unless they stop discriminating.

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