Study: More Tax Dollars Needed for Uninsured Women

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - The number of uninsured women will increase unless Congress expands programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, according to a study released on Wednesday by a private foundation that gives money for health policy research.

Fifteen million American women currently lack health insurance, according to the study by the Commonwealth Fund.

"In the aftermath of recent reports about insurance premium increases and a sagging economy, concern is rising about the difficulty of obtaining and maintaining affordable health insurance," said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund.

The study finds that, as things stand, slightly more women than men have health insurance, thanks mostly to Medicaid, the federal/state program for low-income workers. But the reverse will be true in less than five years, the study predicts.

"Women appear to have greater access barriers [to insurance] than men," said Jeanne Lambrew, associate professor of health services management and policy at George Washington University and author of the Commonwealth study.

Giving more tax incentives to employers to offer health insurance would help matters, the study says. But boosting government programs is better than giving workers health care tax credits or expanding tax-free Medical Savings Accounts, according to the study, because insurers would not want to offer policies to unhealthy women.

Though women may have unique problems when it comes to getting health insurance and health care, experts agree that the problem of the uninsured is directly linked to low income. Low-income workers are often not offered insurance through an employer and can't afford to buy insurance on their own.

But experts disagree as to how to solve the problem.

Tom Miller, director of health policy studies for the Cato Institute, believes the solution is a strong economy and low unemployment-not an infusion of tax dollars into government programs or a new round of regulations on health insurers.

"If the problem is low income, the problem is low income," said Miller. "It's not what type of insurance you try to cross subsidize."

"Medicaid is not a very good program," he added. "Just because you say you cover people doesn't mean you're giving them very good health care.

"What it (Medicaid) does is create a broad set of promises it can't finance," said Miller. "The way in which it closes the gap is by providing very low reimbursement rates, and [then] doctors don't want to serve Medicaid patients."

"What's very threatening to the folks who are trying to rewire and cobble together these older programs by trying to throw more funds into them [is] that all these beneficiaries would be in control of determining what health care services they want to get," he said.

"They'll want to make different choices than what they've been told is good enough for them," Miller added. "A Medical Savings Account (MSA) is threatening in that regard, because more of those dollars are no longer controlled through politicians and various public sector intermediaries that think" it will be better for people.

"They hate the idea that [people] would actually wander into an individual market and buy something on their own without someone holding their hand," he said.