Tinkering with the contraception mandate won’t change its base properties.
The Obama administration has found the policy equivalent of alchemy. Employees of religious organizations will receive contraception coverage. And neither the individuals nor the groups will have to pay for it. It’s magic.
Otherwise known as making the insurer pay.
On Friday the Department of Health and Human Services announced its new rule mandating coverage of contraception. Responding to the furor that the proposal first raised, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius proclaimed that the draft regulation would guarantee free coverage “while respecting religious concerns.”
The latest iteration does clarify the exemption, expanding its reach a bit, to some hospitals, social service groups, and universities with religious affiliations. But there would be no protection for other organizations, as well as employers or employees in secular work who happen to be religious. As before, freedom of conscience is sacrificed for the administration’s ideological objectives.
Equally bad is the means of “protection.” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure of HHS helped write the language and explained: “Under the proposed rule, insurance companies — not churches or other religious organizations — will cover contraceptive services.” Employees at a religious institution could go to their group’s insurer and receive a separate plan priced at zero dollars. Insurers cannot “impose any premium, fee or other charge” for the coverage.
Thus we have policy alchemy. Uncle Sam mandates benefits. Employers do not have to provide coverage for the benefits. Employees do not have to pay for coverage for the benefits. The insurers must provide coverage but cannot charge anyone anything.
What’s not to like about this idea? Indeed, why not use this model for health insurance generally?
Think about it. Congress could mandate a generous standard medical plan for all of us. (Heck, legislators might as well include people who aren’t working. Why let lack of employment get in the way of such a great idea?) Not just generous, but very generous. After all, we are entitled to “Cadillac” care — every procedure at the finest facilities for as long as we want.
Lest small-minded critics complain about the cost, the benefits, all of them, would be FREE! Insurance companies would be required to provide the necessary plans. But they would not be allowed to “impose any premium, fee or other charge” for doing so. Just like for the contraceptive benefits.
Then everyone in America would have comprehensive insurance at no cost.
What could possibly go wrong with such a program?
Tragically, it appears that someone at HHS realized that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, or insurance plan. So the agency proposed allowing insurers to receive a credit against fees they would owe for participating in state health insurance exchanges. Which means the taxpayers would end up paying for the coverage. For Uncle Sam would have to make up the difference somehow — or borrow more money, which just means that future taxpayers would end up paying.
The administration rule nicely demonstrates the fundamental mistake that is Obamacare. It is ridiculous for Washington to decide health care benefits for 315 million Americans.
First, the proposed rule has nothing to do with making “it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control,” as claimed by Planned Parenthood. Today everyone is free to purchase contraception, which is affordable for most everyone. The regulation actually is about subsidies, that is, forcing those who don’t want or like birth control to pay for those who desire birth control.
Second, there is no standard one-size-fits-all insurance package that is appropriate for everyone. Just as it would make no sense to mandate a particular standard for homeowner, auto, or life insurance, it makes no sense to impose a set package for health insurance. We all are different and prefer different mixes of risks and benefits, as well as tradeoffs between health insurance and other uses of our money.