Women Pay More for Health Care — Here's How to Pay Less


It's no secret that a variety of factors can affect your health care costs. For example, people who smoke usually pay more for health insurance, and an unhealthy lifestyle can increase the risk of chronic illnesses and lead to more trips to see the doctor. But among the many factors triggering higher health care costs, it's being a woman that's perhaps the most obnoxious.

Before the Affordable Care Act, women buying health insurance on the individual market paid premiums as much as 50% higher than men due to gender rating, a practice where health insurance providers charged women more because they were considered a higher risk. Gender rating is now illegal, but this doesn't mean women are saving big bucks on health care costs.

According to data provided by the health care company Vitals, women spend on average 69% more out-of-pocket than their male counterparts for health care. That's a huge difference — even from the now-abolished gender rating system. Considering how women statistically earn less than men in just about every occupation, many women feel the pinch. But the question remains, why do women pay more, and what can they do about it?

Women Use More health Care Services

Compared to men, women typically use more health care services, which could explain higher health care costs. Go figure. They're more likely to ask questions about their health, get routine screenings, and schedule appointments when sick. Being proactive helps women maintain their health, but it comes at a cost.

Additionally, some women experience higher health care costs because of certain procedures, including gynecologic surgeries. Women are also six times more likely to have knee replacement surgery — a cost that can soar up to $65,000 — and women are two times more likely to develop cataracts, which can cost up to $5,000 per eye to correct.

And let's not forget the cost of labor and delivery for women. That's big business with the average national cost for a routine delivery at $8,775, and the average for a C-section at $11,525. (Worse, this number doesn't include prenatal care or post-delivery care.) And even if women have health insurance, high deductibles typically mean paying a large percentage of services out-of-pocket.

Women Live Longer Than Men

Women also pay more for health care because they live on average two years longer than men. That's an extra two years of paying health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs for health care services. Even if a woman is healthy during her younger years, she may develop at least one ailment later in life that requires regular doctor visits, especially as she moves closer to retirement age. Studies suggest that a 55-year-old healthy woman retiring today would spend about $79,000 more than a similar man on health care costs during her final years.

How Can Women Protect Themselves From Higher Costs?

When it comes to the cost of health care, it is what it is — but there are plenty of ways for women to prepare and possibly reduce their expense.

Don't Ignore Health Screenings

Preventive care reduces risk factors that trigger many chronic illnesses and can thus lower overall health care costs. Under the Affordable Care Act, you don't have to pay for many preventive care services delivered by a doctor or medical facility within your insurance company's network. These include immunizations, annual physical examinations, colonoscopies, mammograms, and other screenings.

Make Healthy Choices

A healthy lifestyle can also reduce your number of trips to the doctor. Eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, low-fat foods, and lean meats. Exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week. Apply sunscreen when outdoors to reduce your risk of skin cancer and stay physically fit during your retirement years.

Compare the Cost of Services

To lower your health care costs, compare the cost of services at different facilities. You'll find that some facilities within your insurer's network charge significantly different prices for the same services. For example, an in-network hospital may charge $1,500 for an overnight sleep study whereas an in-network sleep clinic may only charge $600 for the same study.

Don't Underestimate Health Care Costs

Prepare for health care costs now and in the future. This includes having adequate health care coverage to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses — as much coverage as you can afford based on your present health care needs. And while you're saving for retirement, don't forget to plan for future health care costs. Women who live longer than their spouses are left to manage health care costs on their own. Therefore, look into purchasing long-term care insurance. Don't wait until you are ready to retire to buy a policy; it's more expensive once you're at that stage of your life. If you lock in a price while you're young and relatively healthy, however, you'll pay lower premiums over the long-term.

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