(CN) - Europe's high court ruled that health insurance companies should not be allowed to charge different rates for men and women, finding that the practice of allowing insurance providers to consider gender as a risk factor is incompatible with the principle of equal treatment.
Following the advice of Advocate General Juliana Kokott, who said it would be "extremely inappropriate" to link risks factors to inborn qualities such as race and gender, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that insurance providers may not discriminate by considering gender as a risk factor in calculating insurance premiums and benefits.
The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice said European Union countries that implemented a gender-based rate difference calculated from statistical data should be granted a transitional period of five years to abolish this practice. Since a charter adopted in 2007 officially banned discrimination on the basis of gender, EU countries have until December 2012 to eliminate the practice of gender-based rate differences, the court ruled.
A Belgian consumer organization and two individuals had challenged a European Commission directive from 2004 that allowed health insurance premiums to be calculated on the basis of gender.
Court advisor Juliana Kokott in her opinion emphasized the importance of gender equality as a fundamental principle of the European Union, and the significance of anti-discrimination policies in carrying this out. She added that it would be "extremely inappropriate" to link risks factors to inborn qualities such as race and gender
The court adviser had examined statistical information linking risks to gender, for example that men cause more traffic accidents, but that women tend to use health insurance benefits more.
She said social and economic factors, such as work, family, diet, and consumption and leisure habits, could influence life expectancy more.
The Court of Justice invalidated the practice of allowing insurance providers to consider gender as a risk factor, since it is incompatible with the principle of equal treatment.
The invalidity cannot be applied retroactively for legal challenges to the directive, the court said.