Having a baby can trigger a wide range of powerful emotions — from joy and excitement to even fear and anxiety. But the birth of a child can also result in something that many women never expect – depression.
After childbirth, many new moms experience "postpartum baby blues," which can cause mood swings, crying, an increased level of anxiety and even difficulty sleeping. In fact, back in January, a government-appointed panel recommended that all pregnant women and new moms get screened for signs of depression, since many women are not even aware of this type of mental illness until it hits them personally.
But while the new screenings are meant to help prevent women from experiencing depression, a diagnosis could come with some very damaging consequences.
How a postpartum depression diagnosis leads to higher insurance rates
According to a recent report from the New York Times, many life and disability insurance providers penalize women with these maternal mental illnesses. This may mean charging them more money, excluding mental illness from their coverage or even refusing to cover the women at all.
And there's nothing illegal about it.
The problem is that many insurance companies don't distinguish between women who are diagnosed with short-term postpartum depression and larger groups of people with more general types of long-term depression. So while a woman may experience a moderate form of depression for a short period of time, she could still face higher rates from the insurance company, even though there is no higher risk of suicide or being unable to work — factors often associated with general types of depression.
This doesn't mean that every woman with postpartum depression will pay higher rates. But whether you've experienced some form of postpartum depression already, or plan to have children in the future, it's important to understand exactly how insurance companies assess the information available about you — in order to figure out what you can do to avoid paying higher rates.
Importance of life insurance
All parents should have life insurance — even those who are stay-at-home parents. Plus, many people don't realize that you are 4X more likely to become disabled during your working lifetime than you are to die during your working lifetime — which emphasizes the need for disability insurance.
So here's some more guidance on how insurance companies are assessing women with postpartum depression and what it means for you and your family.
What all parents should know about possible penalties due to postpartum depression
Prescription and personal background checks
If you've been on prescription medications for any type of depression, the insurance companies will likely be able to find that information. According to the NYT report, some companies only look for this information when women request policies worth $1 million or more, while other companies may check regardless of the amount of coverage you request.
Next, the insurance companies may ask you a whole range of personal questions about your particular experience with depression. According to the NYT, here are a few examples:
- How long ago was the depression?
- How long did it last? How severe was it?
- Did you have thoughts of suicide or attempt it?
- Were you hospitalized?
- Has the depression stopped?
- If you took a prescription medication, how long did you take it?
- Was this the first time depression was diagnosed?
- Has it been diagnosed since?
The purpose of the background check is for life insurance — it's basically a way for the insurance companies to get the information that they think will allow them to calculate the odds that you may kill yourself. And when it comes to disability insurance, the companies are trying to figure out the odds that you won't be able to work in the future — due to mental illness.
So how exactly do the insurance companies measure these factors and actually use them when assessing clients? Well, we don't really know.
Read more: Why all parents need life insurance
More screenings mean more diagnoses, but should it mean higher rates?
Here's the catch: the new screenings are supposed to improve the ongoing problem of under-diagnosis of postpartum depression in new moms, but since the issue has been under-diagnosed for so long, there isn't enough data available for insurance companies to change their ways.
So as more women get diagnosed with some form of postpartum depression, simply due to the fact that more women are being screened, should they have to pay more for life and disability coverage?
This is how Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the prenatal psychiatry program at the University of North Carolina Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, responded to the NYT: "at what point are we going to penalize people who were never suicidal? How do we weigh this, or are we going to throw everyone in the same bucket?”
Where women still pay the lowest rates
According to the NYT, "Northwestern Mutual said that women with maternal depression typically have an excellent prognosis and most applicants will pay the lowest rates. MetLife and Mutual of Omaha made similar remarks."
This is why you should always shop around before choosing a plan.
Read more: 2 simple websites to shop for insurance
Below are some more ways you can avoid paying more for life and disability coverage.
How women can avoid paying higher rates
1. Get as much coverage as you think you'll need before getting pregnant: Experts say that for women who are planning to get pregnant, it's better to go ahead and get as much life and disability coverage as you think you'll ever need before you have a child. Once the insurance companies give you a policy, the terms will stay the same as long as the policy is in effect.
2. Talk to your doctor about how your condition is recorded: An insurance company may assess a your health record differently depending on the diagnosis code recorded in your medical records. Depending on your prescription medications, as well as a few other factors, certain diagnosis codes may not hurt you as much as others when it comes time for the insurance company to do a background check.
3. Shop around to find the best rates: When it comes to insurance (and many other things), you need to shop around some if you want to get the best rates. You can even do it online these days pretty easily. Here's more on how to shop for life insurance.
4. Consider the options through your employer: Find out what your options are through your employer, but this is only the best option if it covers what you can't get covered otherwise. And keep in mind, if you leave your job, you may not be able to take that insurance policy with you.
One more thing…
It's important that women do not avoid these types of depression screenings or treatment just to avoid potentially higher insurance rates. When it comes time to get a policy, make sure you get the coverage you need and shop around to find the best rates that you can afford.