It’s a Long Way to Complimentary

Last weekend I struggled to understand the Obama administration’s advance notice of propose rule making reformulating the happy hour on contraception, sterilization and abortifacients that is to be shoved down the throats of Catholic institutions under Obamacare. The powers-that-be in the government call the services at issue “preventive services” and struggle with how to make them “free.” The advance notice has been posted here. Take a look. It provides a stunning preview of our brave new world.

This week the Wall Street Journal published an editorial translating the advance notice into colloquial English and commenting on it briefly. The Journal’s editorial is written with the trademark lucidity Joseph Rago has brought to the analysis of Obamacare. (It earned him a Pulitzer Prize.) Here is the Journal’s editorial explication of the administration’s advance notice:

The Obama Administration released its new birth-control mandate late Friday afternoon when few would notice, and no wonder. It’s a classic. Religious institutions will no doubt have more to say about what used to be their rights of conscience, but for now a word or two about the rule’s free-lunch economics.

Under the Health and Human Services Department’s “accommodation,” religious organizations won’t have to subsidize or sponsor contraceptive services. But their insurers will have to offer such coverage to all workers “without cost sharing,” as the 32-page proposal in the Federal Register repeatedly emphasizes. Insurers are banned from charging higher premiums for extra benefits, so out of what mists will the necessary dollars materialize?

The rule explains these phantom dollars will come from insurers, except they really won’t, because HHS assures that “Actuaries and experts have found that coverage of contraceptives is at least cost neutral, and may save money, when taking into account all costs and benefits for the issuer.” To put it another way, the pill is cheaper than pregnancies. That’s true enough in the long run, though there are those up-front birth-control costs that are supposedly reducing college students like Sandra Fluke to destitution.

Another problem is that many large organizations—some of which are religious—self-insure under the federal law known by the acronym ERISA. In these cases, employers simply hire insurers to run benefits and then directly pay their workers’ bills. So the religious organization will really be paying for the contraception with only a token middle man.

Not to worry, says HHS, which notes that “nothing precludes a religious organization from switching from a self-insured plan to an insured plan.” Or HHS says it may use an obscure Affordable Care Act provision to create a new corporate tax credit to provide “free” birth control.

Or, since ObamaCare hands HHS “the authority to impose appropriate requirements” on insurers that sell plans in more than one state, HHS says one appropriate requirement might be a rule requiring insurers to buy birth control and then give it away. The rule-makers even explain that they could use “public funding to support coverage of contraceptive services.” At least converting taxpayers into a de facto Planned Parenthood would be honest.

HHS congratulates itself for protecting what it calls “religious liberty interests . . . in the simplest way possible.” It hasn’t done either of those things, so wouldn’t it be easier to revert to the status quo ante that existed three months ago? That’s when people were allowed to practice their faith without government coercion, not to mention obey the laws of economics.


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