During a speech while trying to garner support to pass Obamacare, Nancy Pelosi famously said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Now almost two years since becoming law, the previously unknown details of the 900-page health care reform bill have started coming to light. One of the many mandates in Obamacare causing public uproar is the provision that obligates employers and insurance companies to provide birth control contraception to female workers as a part of their health insurance. Much of the controversy thus far has centered around religious groups claiming that such a law infringes on their Constitutional right to “freedom of religion”. The entire concept of insurance mandates flies in the face of the Constitution, but the courts can decide that argument in time, as it has little relevance to the actual effects of “free” birth control. Many women have been quick to side with the president on his mandates, and understandably so, yet miss the boat on how such a plan ultimately will restrict their own freedom and have effects entirely opposite of its intentions.
The idea that something is “free” implies that no cost should be paid to receive a good. So if I’m sitting at home and someone rings my doorbell to hand me a fresh pizza, then I have received something delicious for free, but originally he had to pay for it. Employers providing contraception to their workers have to pay for that benefit just the same as the stranger who bought me pizza. However since providing contraception to female employees now becomes a part of the costs to hire her, she must pay for that benefit through lower wages, less vacation time, fewer stock options, or most likely higher health insurance premiums. Since all women must receive contraception coverage, this necessarily leads to a reduction in her freedom to choose other wage and benefit options that she may find more appealing than the birth control.
Such a law also assumes that all women have approximately equal sexual habits and preferences. Do less sexually active women have a need for a birth control pill that they must take every day? Thrown completely to the side in this debate are lesbians, celibate females, post menopause women, and those who may prefer condoms or some other form of birth control. Given that these women would now find themselves paying in some way or another for contraceptive pills, then they might as well take advantage of it and use the pills for some other purpose; perhaps even selling them at discount to the unemployed, self employed, or teenagers in a secondary market. If these same women are barred from gaining access to the pills they have paid for through some means, then lawsuit on grounds of birth control discrimination would become commonplace.
Already many proponents of the measure argue that the insurance companies will gladly cover the cost of the pill because it falls under preventative care. They further claim that preventative care saves the insurance company money, so it is actually to their benefit that they provide birth control free of charge. If that were truly the case, then why should the government have to mandate that they do so and why stop there? Insurance companies should also provide all their clients with a lifetime supply of vitamins, gym memberships, exercise equipment, fruits and vegetables in the name of cost saving preventative care.
It should come as no surprise that according to Reuters, 40% of health insurance providers expect higher pharmacy costs and no providers expect a net savings from the program, but what do they know. Even if preventative care of this nature brought tremendous savings to insurance companies, since when is the President of the United States in the business of finding savings for health insurance providers? The companies themselves have shown more than capable of coming up with ways to reduce their costs without any help from Washington.
Perhaps the most devastating and probably least discussed objection to the birth control mandate should come from women themselves. Under such a system where wages must be the same for men and women, equal pay for equal work laws, increasing the cost imposed on the business owner to hire a woman will necessarily lead to discriminatory hiring practices based on cost not gender. As mentioned, the birth control benefit becomes part of the cost to hiring a female employee, and since male employees come with no such mandate then all else equal, hiring a female worker becomes more expensive to an employer. If a firm begins to turn a loss, then logically that firm should lay off their highest cost labor, since Obamacare’s provisions have made men lower cost labor than women, we should expect women to find themselves first in line at your local unemployment offices sans their “right” to contraceptives. Your average woman worker would find herself lucky to even find employment considering her employment comes with a higher price tag than your average male.
This is a predictable consequence of the notion that “health care is a right”, as individuals then begin to believe their personal health preferences constitute their rights. Once someone receives benefits from the government, it becomes next to impossible to deny that person the entitlements he or she has become accustomed to. Coincidentally groups receiving governmentally promised benefits tend to vote in large numbers to keep their “rights”. However these governmentally provided benefits and subsidies are not rights, as individuals only have a right to their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Some argue that health care falls under the life category of rights and therefore these mandates are the necessary answer for our uninsured. Such thinking, while probably well intentioned, contradicts itself immediately because individuals retain the right to practice or not to practice their rights. Are we to believe that health insurance and birth control are such fundamental rights that individuals cannot even opt out of purchasing them?
I want to be clear that I have no intention or interest in controlling a woman’s choice to use contraceptives or gain access to the pill. After all, why would men want to inhibit women from using the pill, when it could be the last line of defense between sleeping in until 11 or waking up at 4 am to change a diaper. Of course some pundits, like Cenk Uygur, have argued the absurd that if you don’t agree that employers must provide birth control to their female employees then you obviously don’t want them to have it all. In sum, we will most likely see the price of birth control skyrocket, the number of unemployed women increase, and eventually a shortage of birth control medication; because when the government promises to provide something for “free”, we should expect to pay for it through the nose.