Corporate America has started another season of open enrollment, so it won’t be long before employers and insurers start shaping 2025’s health insurance plans.
Forward-thinking companies on each side of the table should add something to next year’s negotiations agenda: closing the health spending gap between men and women.
Related: U.S. health spending projected to exceed $7T in 2031
Researchers at Deloitte Consulting looked at 16 million lives, age 19 and older and covered under employer-sponsored health plans, to determine the out-of-pocket spending gap between men and women. They predicted maternity care would account for the difference.
Instead, what the recently published study found was that after removing maternity claims, women still spent 18% more than men in 2021—a total of $15.4 billion more. Among the reasons for that gulf: women seek out healthcare services like office visits, physical therapy and behavioral care more often than men, and the costs of some services used by women, such as breast imaging and some lab tests, are higher. As a result, women spend more, but get less bang for every premium buck spent.
Higher spending on healthcare adds to the financial burden on women, who already face a gender wage gap. Finding ways to address it would promote not just financial equity but health equity. It seems a reasonable assumption that insurers and employers paying attention to their own bottom lines would want to address that.
Dr. Kulleni Gebreyes, one of the study’s authors and Deloitte’s U.S. chief health equity officer and life sciences and healthcare sector leader, agreed.
“Our goal is to actually say this is a good business decision,” Gebreyes said. “You’ll have a healthier workforce. … We really want to align the right things to do with the business-savvy thing to do.”
But how can this be done, particularly when insurance premiums must be the same? It’s a question I posed to Gebreyes and Andy Davis, principal in Deloitte’s healthcare practice.
They said the conversation between insurers and employers needs to move away from the default position of treating men and women employees the same to treating them equitably.
Davis said while the study just looked at out-of-pocket expenses, he’s already had conversations with clients about analyzing members and their needs, looking at the entire health benefits portfolio, including premiums, and seeing what opportunities exist to realign cost-sharing to benefit all.
“Healthcare benefits, for a large part, are within your ability to control and change,” Davis said.