The Commonwealth Fund
National Women's Law Center
August 2, 2016
Women's Health Coverage Since the ACA: Improvements for Most, But Insurer Exclusions Put Many at Risk
By Dania Palanker, Karen Davenport
Issue: Since enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many more women have health insurance than before the law, in part because it prohibits insurer practices that discriminate against women. However, gaps in women's health coverage persist. Insurers often exclude health services that women are likely to need, leaving women vulnerable to higher costs and denied claims that threaten their economic security and physical health.
Goal: To uncover the types and incidence of insurer exclusions that may disproportionately affect women's coverage.
Method: The authors examined qualified health plans from 109 insurers across 16 states for 2014, 2015, or both years.
Key findings and conclusions: Six types of services are frequently excluded from insurance coverage: treatment of conditions resulting from noncovered services, maintenance therapy, genetic testing, fetal reduction surgery, treatment of self-inflicted conditions, and preventive services not covered by law. Policy change recommendations include prohibiting variations within states' "essential health benefits" benchmark plans and requiring transparency and simplified language in plan documents.
Problems from lack of transparency
There is little transparency in plan documents regarding health insurance exclusions. As a result, women may unwittingly enroll in plans containing exclusions that impact their coverage, and remain unaware of the exclusions until they seek services or have a claim denied. The short overview of coverage provided for each plan on the marketplace—called the "Summary of Benefits and Coverage"—includes space for information on exclusions. However, only 13 exclusions are required to be listed, and none of the exclusions described in this brief are in that group. Identifying all exclusions requires reading the underlying plan document, such as the evidence of coverage; yet some plan documents are over 100 pages long and exclusions appear in various sections. Terminology also varies among insurers; for example, some plans exclude "maintenance therapy" and others exclude "maintenance care." In addition, some exclusions appear among only a small number of insurers, so women cannot know all the exclusions to look for in their plans. For example, six insurers exclude services resulting from an enrollee's failure to comply with or accept recommended treatment, which is problematic for women who are less likely than men to adhere to prescription protocols. These factors make it difficult for women to identify and compare exclusions across plans.
Comment by Don McCanne
The Affordable Care Act included provisions to prohibit discrimination against women in health insurance plans. However it is in the DNA of private insurers to work around regulations in order to serve their own interests, and this is what they have done regarding discriminatory policies against women, as this study shows.
We put our health care financing in charge of individuals who are running a private business. It would be unrealistic for us to expect them to do anything other than to optimize the business opportunity for themselves.
Had we established our own public program - a single payer national health program - our public employees would have been dedicated to service - trying to make the program work in getting us the health care that we need. Further, they would have done it without all of the expense and administrative complexity that characterizes our dysfunctional multi-payer system.
Better service for less money? We can still do it.