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Older Women Have More Difficulty Obtaining Health Insurance

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 4, 2009

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius traveled to Maine this week to release a new report on health insurance reforms related to older women (ages 55 to 64) and senior women (ages 65 and older). The report's message—which gave another nudge to Obama administration's healthcare reform efforts: The current health insurance market "does not work for older women."

The report, Strengthening the Health Insurance System: How Health Insurance Reform Will Help America's Older and Senior Women, noted that women were less likely to be eligible for employer based health benefits than men and that the individual insurance market is not a "reliable alternative." It said that less than half of women have the option of obtaining employer-based coverage on their own.

"Our mothers and grandmothers have unique health needs and under the status quo—they aren't getting the quality, affordable care they deserve," said Sebelius, who participated Thursday in a roundtable discussion in South Portland that sponsored by AARP and the Maine Women's Lobby.

Overall, women appeared to be more susceptible to incurring high medical costs--even when they have health insurance, the report stated. A recent study found that nearly half of all women reported problems paying medical bills—compared with 36% of men, and a third of women were faced with making a "difficult tradeoff" between using up their savings, taking on debt, or giving up basic necessities.

The issue of high out of pocket costs was particularly prevalent among older women, who were more likely to be lower income than men of the same age (28% versus 23%). Also, 42% of older women had two or more chronic conditions--compared with only 32% of older men—which adds to healthcare costs.

Overall, older women were more likely to incur greater out-of-pocket costs. More than 5% of older women lived in households with high out of pocket costs, compared with 4% of older males. For older women living alone, 8% had high out of pocket costs compared with 5.5% for men.

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