Just listen to this NPR story on the contraception “compromise”:
It’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, let’s say you believe the White House line, that this new mandate will provide contraception to millions (?) of employees who don’t have to pay for it, and that no one–not the employer and not the insurer–will see higher costs because of it. Umm, so the White House was really stupid last week, when it was going to implement a plan that achieved the same results but imposed huge costs on a bunch of employers, right? And they can’t say that they just figured out this magical solution within the last 7 days; they are saying it is “well known” that contraception contains costs.
OK after you’re done gouging out your eyes from that issue, consider the fact that the NPR story didn’t interview an outside economist to ask whether these claims made any sense. Suppose the White House had come up with a “compromise” that said, “We will distribute a bar magnet to any woman who requests it, as a different means of avoiding unwanted pregnancy. We have checked with the Vatican and they don’t oppose this ‘Maxwell planning.'” I’m guessing, in this case, NPR would have gotten comments not just from the White House official in charge of the magnet plan, and not merely an anonymous insurance industry insider, but also–oh I don’t know–maybe a medical doctor to evaluate the biological claim. So since the White House is now making a claim about a government policy’s impact on costs… Ah, if only there were a group of professionals who thought about such things. I imagine such a hypothetical group of professionals would find the “compromise” to be Orwellian (see Rizzo and Landsburg and Mankiw).
Now if you read any of those three articles, you’ll see the problem: the two policies are effectively the same policy. Whether you force Catholic employers to pay for contraception, or whether you force Catholic employers to provide insurance that in turn has to cover contraception, is effectively the same policy. That’s why I’ve been putting “compromise” in quotation marks. The White House claims that no, it’s not the same policy, because it will make it illegal for the insurers to raise prices in order to cover their now-higher costs, but the economists won’t take their verbal assurances on the matter.
Now what’s truly amazing in this episode, is that the NPR story actually does let its listeners know that there is some question as to whether the White House plan can work. Specifically, some employers self-insure, meaning they take in health insurance premiums from their employees and put them into a big pot of money, out of which they pay medical claims. So for those employers, the White House is effectively saying, “You don’t have to pay for contraception, because you will pay for it. And don’t worry, if we catch you trying to make yourself pay for it, we won’t let you.”
And here is where the NPR story at least allows a critic to object, that maybe this doesn’t make sense. But it’s not definitive, mind you; it’s just one competing voice, against the authority of the other people quoted in the story.
P.S. I am pretty sure I’ve correctly crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s in the above, but I am not taking the time to go back and carefully read all the source material. I’m not Catholic. So let me know if I’m fudging the actual details…