As Congress works to overhaul the nation's $2.5 trillion health care system, health insurers are trying to stave off a government health plan that would ultimately insure all Americans, and at the same time create their largest competitor.

This effort turned into something of a skirmish on Tuesday as the head of a leading private insurance group told senators that as long as all Americans are required to get insurance coverage, women should no longer be charged more than men in the individual market. Health care costs for women tend to be higher during childbearing years, say analysts.

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