Women pay billions more in out-of-pocket health costs annually

Women pay billions more in out-of-pocket health costs annually

The High Cost of Being a Woman: Deloitte Report Reveals Gender Disparities in Healthcare Expenses


Published on Oct. 3, 2023

Marielle Farina, a senior manager at consulting and accounting firm Deloitte, has dedicated her career to helping health insurers design benefits. However, her expertise did not prepare her for the overwhelming deluge of medical bills that came with new motherhood. From maternity care to everyday healthcare expenses, women face significantly higher medical costs compared to men. This revelation comes from a new report co-authored by Farina, released by Deloitte. The report specifically focuses on working women and reveals that they pay as much as $15.4 billion more in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses annually compared to men, across all age groups from 19 to 64.

In their research, Deloitte’s health team analyzed data from more than 16 million people covered under employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The results were staggering. On average in 2021, women spent 20% more on out-of-pocket expenses than men, even when excluding maternity costs. This translates to an extra $266 per year, on average, for each woman.

The report suggests several potential reasons for these gender disparities in healthcare expenses. Women tend to utilize healthcare services more frequently, with 10% more in total health expenditures compared to men. This can be attributed to unique medical needs such as gynecological examinations, menopause-related visits, and high-cost breast cancer imaging.

Additionally, women receive less value from their health insurance coverage, with a discrepancy of approximately $1.3 billion less in benefits compared to men among individuals with commercial insurance. This disparity exacerbates the financial burden that women face when seeking medical services, contributing to what experts refer to as the “pink tax.” The pink tax refers to the higher prices women often pay for products and services specifically designed for them, including menstrual products.

The unequal financial burden for women’s health services is further compounded by the long-standing pay inequity between men and women. The report highlights that women, particularly Black, Native, and Latina women, are overrepresented in low-paying jobs, such as food service, retail, and housecleaning. These occupations carried a higher risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Venicia Gray, senior manager for maternal and infant health at the National Partnership for Women & Families, emphasizes the disheartenment women feel when they learn that men do not bear the same level of financial responsibility for healthcare.

The gender disparity in healthcare expenses also extends to the quality of care women receive. The 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation Women’s Health Survey found that 29% of women between the ages of 18 and 64 felt their doctors dismissed their concerns during healthcare visits. Furthermore, 15% reported that healthcare providers did not believe them, and 19% stated that their doctors made assumptions without asking. These experiences often result in less efficient and thorough medical care, requiring women to schedule additional appointments and incur additional out-of-pocket costs.

Malia Funk, founder of the POV, a women’s health advocacy platform, shares her personal experience to illustrate the challenges women face in accessing quality healthcare. Despite her background in the medical field, it took Funk multiple doctor appointments over three years to have an out-of-place IUD removed. She recounts the frustration and financial strain, as each visit counted as a “sick visit,” requiring her to pay out-of-pocket toward her $4,000 deductible. Funk also discovered unexpected charges, such as an $800 fee for ruling out sexually transmitted infections during unrelated testing.

Dr. Kulleni Gebreyes, an emergency medicine doctor and Deloitte’s chief health equity officer, hopes that this report will spark a reevaluation of coverage structures by employers and insurers. She emphasizes the need for business leaders to collaborate with healthcare providers in identifying the root causes of these discrepancies and redesigning benefits and cost-sharing measures accordingly. Dr. Gebreyes emphasizes the importance of recognizing that women have distinct medical needs as compared to men and that healthcare benefits should reflect these differences to make healthcare more affordable and equitable.

In conclusion, the Deloitte report sheds light on the significant gender disparities in healthcare expenses faced by women, revealing the financial burden they carry, often exceeding that of men. The report highlights the need for employers, insurers, and healthcare providers to reassess their practices and work towards a fairer healthcare system. By addressing these gender disparities, we can ensure that women receive the quality care they deserve, while easing the burden of healthcare expenses that disproportionately affects them.