North Coast lawmaker Mariko Yamada seeks to tackle gender disparity in insurance costs

  • California State Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, center, attends a hearing examining agritourism, with fellow assemblymembers Susan Talamantes Eggman, left, and Brian Dahle, on the University of California at Davis campus on Thursday, January 23, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

A Northern California lawmaker facing her final year in the Assembly is pushing legislation to ban the practice of charging women more than men for long-term care insurance.

If the measure becomes law, California would become the third state after Colorado and Montana to prohibit insurers from using gender as a means to differentiate the prices in long-term care policies.

"I term out in November ... so this is my first and last opportunity — as an Assembly member, anyway — to take this issue up," said Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, whose 4th District includes part of Sonoma County and all of Napa and Lake counties.

Last April, coverage providers across the country started charging single women about 40 percent to 60 percent more than single men for the same coverage, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group that tracks the issue.

Insurers said the disparity reflected the greater life expectancy of women, who on average live five years longer than men, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

<CW-17>Gender-linked pricing for insurance products has precedent.</CW>

<CW-19>"For example, we know that younger men who are applying for car insurance in their younger years are a greater risk because of their, frankly, unfortunate tendency to be more reckless," Yamada said.</CW>

Auto insurance — or other proof of financial responsibility — has been mandatory in California for generations. A voter-approved ballot measure passed in 1988, Proposition 103, barred discrimination in auto and some other types of coverage, but not health or long-term care insurance.

Long-term care policies are relatively new.

Insurers began offering coverage in the late 1980s to supplement care costs for people — mostly the elderly — unable to perform the basic activities of daily living, such as eating or bathing. According to federal statistics, about 6 in 10 individuals over age 65 will require the service in their lifetime.

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