Outdated Health Benefit Laws Penalize Working Women


New Book Examines Problems Facing Modern Women; Identifies Needed Changes

DALLAS (May 2, 2006) – The U.S. Senate has declared this week, "Health Week," with a focus on medical malpractice reform, among other items. Yet according to the authors of the new book Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families, Outdated Laws, the Senate should be looking for ways to update our health care system to better meet the needs of women and modern families.

"Health care is routinely near the top of women's concerns, partially due to the fact that women are more frequent consumers of care," said Kimberley Strassel, co-author of the book and an editorial writer with the Wall Street Journal . "However women's experience with health care, including their ability to maintain a consistent doctor relationship, is complicated by the way we typically attain health insurance."

The United States encourages employers to provide health insurance as a benefit of employment. The current system was devised in an era when families mainly consisted of full-time worker husband who has a stay-at-home wife and works for the same company for his entire career. This is not the way modern families, particularly working wives, live anymore, but our health care institutions have not kept pace. For example:

  • Women often work part time so that they may care for children or elderly family members, thus they are less likely to qualify for employer-provided insurance.
  • Modern workers, particularly women, move from job to job and in and out of the labor market. As a result, many lose insurance or switch insurers, and in many cases, must change doctors.
  • When people acquire health insurance outside the workplace, the tax system is far less generous.

In fact our major economic institutions — including tax law, labor law, and employee benefits law, as well as Social Security, and retirement policies — reward families with full-time worker and a stay-at-home spouse and by comparison punish every other arrangement.

Many changes are needed to bring our health care system into sync with the way people are living their lives in the 21st century. The authors offer a few suggestions, including:

  • Make it easier for dual-earner couples to obtain higher wages rather than unneeded, duplicate benefits;
  • Allow part-time workers to accept lower wages in exchange for health care benefits;
  • Create a level playing field under the tax law so that people that purchase health insurance on their own obtain just as much tax relief as people who get health insurance through their employer; and
  • Create portable health benefits, so that people are not penalized when they switch jobs.

Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families, Outdated Laws is a newly released book by Kimberley Strassel, editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal; John C. Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA); and Celeste Colgan, an NCPA senior fellow. It is published by Rowman & Littlefield in cooperation with the Manhattan Institute and is available at booksellers, including Amazon.com.