Older Women Face Health-Care Shortfall

OLDER women in the United States run a higher risk of financial ruin than older men because of inequalities in the nation's health-care system, according to a report released yesterday by the Older Women's League (OWL).

In its annual Mother's Day report, OWL states that 13 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 64 lack health insurance, compared with 7 percent of men in that age group.

Thirty percent of older women obtain group insurance as dependents of their spouses, as opposed to 8 percent of men. Many women lose their health insurance when their marital status or their husband's employment status changes, despite laws designed to guarantee continued coverage.

"If women are to have reliable protection against high health care costs, health insurance must be separate from employment," writes Lou Glasse, president of OWL. She supports a system of universal health care.

Because women on average live longer than men, their vulnerability to lack of or inadequate coverage is greater, OWL says. "Enormous gaps" in public health programs for women age 65 and older mean women remain vulnerable throughout their lives.

"Most significantly, Medicare does not address the long-term health-care needs that can cause economic devastation," the report says. "Although private long-term health care insurance is available, the cost is prohibitive."

Annual premiums for long-term care insurance average $1,072, 14 percent of the median annual income of older women, according to Older Women's League.

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