The White House posted a map today showing that women pay more than men for insurance in a number of states — sometimes way more. Insurers say this is necessary because women use healthcare services more, but some experts question that — Marcia D. Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center told the Times that since different plans have such drastically different gender gaps (or no gap at all) it can’t actually be necessary to charge women more. And some people have argued that since women “look after themselves better than men,” they should actually be paying less.
But according to Dr. Richard Cooper, Professor of Medicine and Senior Fellow in the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, that argument doesn’t hold water. He says there are two simple reasons why women cost more to insure than men do: they go to the doctor more, and they live longer. Do those additional doctor visits translate into early detection of health problems, and cost savings down the road? Nope, says Dr. Cooper — he calls the idea that early diagnosis is cheaper “a pretty marginal notion,” and points out that for many diseases, early diagnosis is actually more expensive. That doesn’t mean early detection isn’t a good idea for some conditions — Cooper mentions hypertension as a prime example — but it’s unlikely to save a lot of money.
The data back him up. A 2004 study of 3.75 million people in Michigan found that women’s lifetime healthcare costs (the amount paid by them or insurers to providers) were about one-third higher than men’s — they averaged $361,200 to men’s $268,700.
None of these are policy arguments — whether women should have to pay more for insurance than men do is a separate issue. But over the course of their (sometimes long) lives, their healthcare does appear to cost more money.