Contraception conundrum

Article Highlights

  • Solution is not complicated: employment and health insurance should have nothing to do with each other

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  • US employers forced to make decisions about the most intimate details of their employees’ private lives

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  • The fact that routine birth control is even included in a debate about “insurance” is ridiculous

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"A cornerstone of the Obama health reform plan involves cramming still more people into employer-based health plans, thus guaranteeing a future filled with more showdowns like today’s contraception conundrum." -- J.D. Kleinke

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” last week—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.

J.D. Kleinke is a resident fellow at AEI.

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