Women face greater medical costs than men and, as such, are getting significantly less value out of their benefits, according to a new analysis from Deloitte.
Researchers at Deloitte dug into data from the Komodo Healthcare Map and found that employed women face as much as $15.4 billion more each year in out-of-pocket costs compared to men. Across all ages between 19 and 64, women's out-of-pocket expenses were higher on average, according to the report.
Among people with commercial insurance, the value of benefits to women is more than $1.3 billion less then men, the study found.
"We know about the wage gap and other products that are in market, like the 'pink tax,'" said Andy Davis, a principal at Deloitte's healthcare practice and one of the study's authors, in an interview with Fierce Healthcare. "It's another area where we continue to put more financial burden on women than we do men."
Women also use more healthcare services, according to the report, but that doesn't necessary explain why the gap in expenses is so yawning. On average in 2021, women spent 20% more on out-of-pocket expenses compared to men and, excluding maternity costs, only slimmed the difference to 18%.
Women are more likely to need services that surpass the deductible, leading to higher spending out-of-pocket, according to the report. The analysts also found that women are more likely to reach their out-of-pocket maximum.
Some of the factors identified include early-age recommendations for annual checkups, more frequent gynecological care and higher cost for cancer screenings like mammograms.
For instance, it's common that women have coverage for one mammogram per year at no cost, Davis said. However, the follow-up diagnostics for mammograms can be costly, which will lead to higher expenses.
Routine cancer screenings for men, such as prostate exams and colorectal cancer tests, also tend to start later in life than tests for women do, Davis said.
So, what can insurers and employers be doing to address these issues? It starts with reexamining their benefits and thinking about ways they can address the highest-cost services that impact women most.
The researchers recommend that plans and plan sponsors conduct a comprehensive review on their benefits focusing on the effects on men, women and people of any gender. Covering this actuarial value gap, according to the report, shouldn't come at a massive cost to employers, either.
The analysts said it will cost less than $12 per employee, or less than $1 each month.
In addition, Davis said insurers and plan sponsors can be looking at the services that women use most often and finding ways to address spend in those areas to reduce the burden on them.
For example, women are more likely to seek out mental health care than men and tend to use more services on average. So addressing the coinsurance around behavioral health or offering coverage with no or low cost-sharing could make a huge difference, he said.
"These are small changes that can have a really large impact on the overall financial burden on women," he said.