Splitting the health care tab with the guys

Indignation over loss of men's discounted premiums

In a remarkable display of having no idea how insurance works, Fox News commentators are criticizing the Affordable Care Act for using the premiums of young and healthy adults to offset the costs of providing health care for those who need it.

John Stossel, who appears to have fallen into an ideological sink hole after leaving ABC News, says women should continue to pay higher premiums because they use the health care system more often. Perhaps, he said, it is because they are "hypochondriacs."

"Women go to the doctor much more often than men!" Mr. Stossel said in an animated on-air rant. "Maybe they're smarter or maybe they're hypochondriacs.

"They live longer. Who knows? But if it's insurance, you ought to be able to charge people who use the services more, more."

And Avik Roy, a critic of health care reform, said the equalization of premiums paid by men and women under the ACA was, in fact, "a war on bros."

This is how the blogger for Forbes magazine — and this makes you wonder about Forbes' credentials as a financial journal — explained the rank unfairness of the reforms:

"So, the key thing to understand is Obamacare is a war on bros. It's young men in particular who are going to pay a lot more. Young people are going to pay more, men are going to pay more relative to women, and healthy people are going to pay more relative to sick people."

Um. Right. That's what insurance is supposed to do — spread the risk. The goal of the individual mandate under the ACA is exactly that — to bring healthy people into the system so their premiums can offset the additional costs of the unhealthy people who will now also be covered.

Fox News went to great length to explain why women should be paying higher premiums, bringing on some lame doctor who explained that women have all those "parts" and guys just have that one part. You know, the prostate.

And why, in the name of all that is fair and balanced, should he have to foot any part of the bill for the birth control pills she uses?

Having failed to defeat Obamacare in the Congress, in the Supreme Court or during a presidential election, its critics are now looking to fire up all those healthy young guys by revealing that they are now subsidizing the health care costs of their wives, girlfriends and parents.

They are counting on their rank selfishness — and their general unwillingness to go to the doctor no matter what is wrong — to turn them against health care reform. "Why shouldn't she pay more? She can get pregnant. I only drive faster and more recklessly."

For decades, insurance companies have charged women more for their health insurance — sometimes 10 times more. Women have been denied coverage in the past for what insurance providers determined were "pre-existing conditions," such as premature births, Cesarean sections or domestic violence.

The Affordable Care Act removes the discount men received on their premiums and forbids the denial of coverage for any pre-existing condition, including, I believe, a swollen prostate.

Women remain at risk under these reforms, however.

Women over the age of 20 make up 57 percent of part-time workers in this country, and employers can reduce their hours or reduce their number to avoid providing health care insurance for them.

In addition, the ACA only requires that employers cover employees and their dependent children. It does not require that spouses or domestic partners be covered. That is not good news for stay-at-home mothers.

But it is also true that women oversee the health care — and very often the budgets — of the family and now there will be maternity, newborn and pediatric dental and vision coverage, and the kids can be covered until the age of 26.

Whether they are guys or girls, from what I understand.

So let's put this whole "she uses more, she should pay more" argument to rest. Or I am going to ask for a rebate for all the extra children I didn't send to public schools, and a tax refund for all national parks I haven't had a chance to visit and all the highways and all the bridges I would have had to use to get there.

That should make us about even.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.


To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com.

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