WASHINGTON – Health insurance firms, facing the threat of a government health plan, offered Tuesday to reduce rates for millions of women and accept close federal regulation of their industry.
The higher premiums now affect 5.7 million women, many of them self-employed people who must buy their own coverage.
The industry is trying to head off creation of a government health plan that would compete with it to enroll middle-class workers and their families. President Obama and many Democrats favor such a plan, but the companies say it would drive them out of business.
“We are not asking people to trust us, we are asking people to trust government,” Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, told a Senate panel crafting bills to overhaul the nation’s $2.5 trillion health care system.
Although the bill won’t be written for weeks, insurers and other interest groups are trying to shape it now.
Instead of a government plan as a check on their industry, insurers are offering to accept a series of consumer protections they contend would add up to a fairer marketplace and cut into the ranks of the 50 million uninsured.
Finance Committee leaders want to bring a bill to the Senate floor this summer. The outlines will follow Obama’s campaign proposal, which builds on the current system of shared responsibility among employers, government and individuals.
Most Americans are covered through employer plans, which are prohibited from charging higher premiums because of gender, poor health or other similar factors. Only about 9 percent purchase their own health insurance.
It’s in this group that women face higher rates. That’s because health care costs for women tend to go up during childbearing years. Also, some policies don’t cover maternity care.