The war over the Affordable Care Act may be over, but one battle shows no signs of waning.
The fight over Section 2713 of the Public Health Services Act under ACA’s Section 101 — better known as the health law’s regulation on preventive services — centers on contraception.
The benefit essentially calls for health plans to cover birth control and other services with no additional cost-sharing for enrollees.
But critics quickly seized on the administration’s initial proposal in 2011, which carved out an exception for “religious employers” — such as churches — but not for “religiously affiliated” employers — such as Catholic hospitals. As a result, HHS delayed implementation for religiously affiliated employers by a year but still required them to comply with the mandate.
In February, the White House released another accommodation for religiously affiliated employers. Yet rather than lay the issue to rest, the administration’s proposed amendments drew more than 400,000 comments — the most comments on any government regulation tracked by the Sunlight Foundation.
It’s just the latest salvo in an ongoing controversy. Opponents have filed more than 60 legal challenges against the benefit. Some have called it a “war on religion.”
While the sheer volume is astounding, there’s little mystery behind the root cause.
The contraception benefit touches on a half-dozen pressure points: Politics. Religion. Sex. Federal mandates. Federal entitlements.
“Our health care system is the dumping ground for all of our worst, unresolved arguments as a society,” J.D. Kleinke writes at The Health Care Blog. And the changes at the heart of Obamacare “spark every remaining culture war,” he adds.
And a mandate related to birth control is especially fraught.
WASHINGTON — Oral contraceptives may be small, but they are proving to be tough pills for a vast number of Americans to swallow.
Last week, the Sunlight Foundation reported that the contraception provisions of President Obama’s health reform law garnered 147,000 comments from the public — more than on any other regulatory ruling, on any subject, in the history of the nation. Really.
The unprecedented flood of comments came from a wide range of organizations and individuals who support or oppose mandated contraception coverage as part of Obamacare.
Supporters, in general, want to extend coverage for this cornerstone of women’s health; oral contraceptives are used not just for birth control, but also for the treatment of pelvic pain, irregular periods, fibroid tumors, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, severe acne, mood disorders, and excessive menstrual bleeding that could lead to anemia. Opponents, in general, want to block this extension based on religious, moral or personal objections to women using pooled insurance resources to pay for pills that enable sex-for-fun — and that can be used, as it happens, for early termination of an unwanted pregnancy.
As we get closer to the London Summit on Family Planning, people often ask me, “Why is family planning so important to you?” The simple answer is that it can mean everything to so many of the women and families I meet. It means the difference between being empowered and feeling powerless. It means the difference between celebrating a daughter’s graduation and watching her drop out of school. It even means the difference between life and death.
Providing family planning information and services to millions of women and girls in the poorest countries in the world gives them the opportunity to determine their own futures, and the best future for their children.
As a woman and a mother, I can’t imagine anything more important.
The women and girls I speak with, whether in India or Kenya, tell me they want to be able to plan for their families. They tell me they want what’s best for themselves and their children. They want the right to participate freely and equally in society.
Can religious beliefs be forced on you? Can government decide which religious beliefs are “acceptable” and which are not? Of course not. But this is the crux of the “free exercise” debate ignited by the Obama administration’s recent new health care mandate that forces employers to provide “free” contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.
The issue is not one of good health — despite election-year efforts to frame it as such. If it were only about good health, government would have long ago outlawed smoking, mandated daily vitamins and forced employers to provide gym memberships. The issue is not even “free” contraception. If it were, a member of Congress with an elastic view of the Commerce Clause would have long ago introduced a bill providing it to the public for “free” — whatever that means.
The real issues are whether the First Amendment is broad enough to include beliefs with which we disagree, and whether government can tacitly or otherwise force us to abandon our religious beliefs simply because something constitutes sound public policy.
A debate over sound public policy never can be substituted for constitutional consistency. If government action affects religious liberty, the government must (1) provide a compelling reason for the encroachment on free exercise and (2) prove the action used is the least restrictive means available.
What makes the contraception coverage debate currently raging in Washington unusually problematic is that both sides are exactly right. Female employees who receive part of their cash compensation in the form of health benefits have the right to benefits that include FDA-approved birth control methods. Employers defined by their religious values—not just churches, synagogues, and mosques, but also thousands of hospitals, universities, and charities—should not have to compromise those values with their own money, and the government has no right to trample the First Amendment by compelling them to do so. The Obama administration’s “accommodation” —shifting the new federal requirement to the insurers who administer those organizations’ health plans—is a cynical shell game that ignores the most basic tenets of business accounting.
As the problem is no more complicated than two sets of equally valid rights in direct opposition, neither is the solution all that complicated, at least in principle: employment and health insurance should have nothing to do with each other.
Unfortunately, this arrangement—a relic of the World War II civilian wage freeze and enshrined in the tax code as soon as workers got a taste of this new-fangled “fringe benefit” of employment—is now an enduring part of the U.S. healthcare system. The entanglement of our health insurance with our employment goes a long way toward explaining not just today’s conundrum over the birth control coverage mandate, but myriad other economic distortions, market dysfunctions, and cultural conflicts that define much of what is wrong with the U.S. healthcare system.
The Obama administration’s ‘accommodation’ last week is a cynical shell game that ignores the most basic tenets of business accounting.
There are two conservatives for every liberal in America. That’s the message of a recent David Brooks column as well as a Gallup survey. I think the imbalance is much starker. I would guess there are four conservatives for every liberal. Maybe even more.
Here’s a test I invite you to take. Watch C-Span’s morning call-in show and listen to what people who phone in on the “Democrat” or “liberal” line have to say. When is the last time you heard a caller say, “We should all pay higher taxes so that the government can provide us with universal day care”? Or how about, “We should all pay higher taxes so the government can provide us with universal long term care”? I bet you can’t remember ever hearing that.
Here is what I suspect you will hear: Teachers complaining that teachers aren’t paid enough. Union members complaining about competition from workers overseas. Senior citizens whining about the meagerness of Social Security or Medicare benefits. Minority callers advocating more affirmative action. What is the common denominator of these comments? Self-interest.
Yes, I know. Special interests are in both parties. Why wouldn’t they be? Yet as I wrote in my analysis of “progressivism,” the left in America has elevated special interest privilege to an art form.
Here’s the point: people wanting more, more, more are just people pursuing their own self interest in politics. They are not in principle different from any other special interest group. Importantly, they have nothing in common with what we normally have in mind by the term “liberalism.”
The otherworldy Obama Administration solution to the contraception firestorm might work politically but it makes no sense in the real world.
The President, hoping to quell a growing political firestorm, today announced a new policy that no longer requires religiously affiliated organizations to provide employees with contraception coverage in health-insurance plans.
Under the new policy, insurance companies will be required to offer free contraception for their employees and dependents. The administration’s idea is to shift the onus for the coverage from the employer to the insurer. Catholic leaders, and lots of other people, had objected to the requirement, which exempted churches but not hospitals, charities and universities with religious affiliations.
So, let’s just play a game here. The religious organization just pretends that it has nothing to do with it but the insurance company pays for it anyway. Hey, the insurance companies are rich.
Of course there is a cost. Today, contraception is almost universally covered in health insurance policies. The argument that forcing insurers to pay for it, without deductibles and copays, saves money because it avoids pregnancy costs is just plain silly.
Let me get this straight. Catholic institutions won’t have to pay for contraception coverage in their health insurance? Instead, their health insurers will provide it for free? Did I hear that right?
The President seems to have found the long elusive free lunch. If he has, hand him his Nobel Prize in Economics now; no economist will ever top that. (That would make him just the fifth person to win two Nobel Prizes. Such greatness inspires.) I am afraid that the Nobel Prize committee will have more work to do, as the free lunch will remain as scarce as the unicorn. Just bear in mind that health insurers charge different prices for all of their clients. How is anyone to know whether they are providing contraception to some Catholic institution for free? Will we have a federal agency auditing whether an insurer’s 6.743 percent price increase should have been 6.682 percent? And is this new rule even Constitutional? Since when can the government force private businesses to give away their products? I guess a government that believes it can mandate that consumers purchase contraception coverage regardless of the price also believes that it can mandate insurers set the price for contraception coverage to zero.
And suppose insurers really do provide contraception for free to Catholic institutions, but not for any others. This gives the Catholic institutions a competitive advantage in labor markets. Mr. President, may I suggest that as long as you are giving away stuff to employees at Catholic institutions, why not force Apple to give away iPads to Northwestern University employees? (Most of them voted for you and surely deserve it!) Apparently all it takes is an executive order. What did Mel Brooks say about this? Oh yeah, “It’s good to be the king.”