Why women spend $15 billion more annually on health care

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Women spend billions more each year on health care than men do—and it indirectly contributes to the gender wage gap.

That’s according to a new report—titled “Hiding in plain sight: The health care gender toll”—released Tuesday by financial services firm Deloitte. Researchers examined the medical spending of 16 million U.S. workers with company-sponsored health insurance plans from 2017 through 2022, and explored patterns of gender inequity the data revealed.

Men and women pay the same price for insurance premiums. But women fork over $15 billion more annually for out-of-pocket medical expenses like copays and deductibles, the report asserts—pregnancy costs aside. 

The result: a covert “pink tax,” a colloquial term that refers to the higher price women pay for the exact same product as men—be it disposable razors, laxatives, children’s bike helmets, or health insurance.

The heftier price tag is due in part to usage—women utilize health insurance 10% more than men, on average. But insurance companies tend to cover a smaller portion of the cost of services women need compared to the cost of services men need, researchers found.

Other factors contributing to the veritable pink tax include:

  • Earlier age recommendations for annual checkups when compared to men
  • Frequent gynecological exams
  • The high cost of breast cancer imaging compared to imaging required for other types of cancer
  • Menopausal transitions and the treatments they necessitate
  • A higher likelihood to require medical services that surpass a plan’s annual deductible

Women receive the most bang for their insurance-premium buck during their thirties and forties due to the services often required during late childbearing years, perimenopause, and menopause, the report states. But after this period, women “consistently derive lesser value for each health care premium dollar spent” as they age.

“Our analysis highlights a hidden financial burden on women that can not only impact their pocketbook, but potentially their health,” Dr. Kulleni Gebreyes, U.S. chief health equity officer and life sciences and health care sector leader for Deloitte, said in a news release on the report.

“Financial stressors can lead to health problems and delays in care, which can further perpetuate a cycle of preventable health care consumption, thus compounding expenses,” she added. “As leaders in business, health care, and society, we have an opportunity to make intentional efforts to close this gap.”

Employers can do so by examining and redesigning their health care benefits to level the playing field—at a rough cost of just $133 per employee per year, report authors assert.

The U.S. gender wage gap has barely budged over the past two decades, according to a Pew Research Center report released in March. In 2002, women earned 80 cents to each dollar made by men. Twenty years later, in 2022, that number had only risen by two cents.

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