Where Could Such An Obligation Arise?

The WSJ has an article today that Hot Air tagged "There is No Such Thing as Free Birth Control."  The article makes the point that someone has to pay for the birth control or abortifacients that come with insurance plans, and since the insurers are going to be tasked to provide it at no cost to the end user, that means that the cost will be hidden and distributed into the costs of the plan.  It has to be that way, because the stuff costs money:  someone has to pay for it.

The point of the article is that this continues to violate the religious freedom of Catholics, who are commanded by their faith not to materially support abortion, contraception, etc.  That's true, of course, but it's not what interests me.

Rather, the Hot Air tag to the article suddenly made me realize how odd it is to expect to receive something expensive for free.  It's not usually the case that you obtain expensive things for free.

The argument seems to be that it's important for women, so therefore it should be free to women.  There are lots of things that are at least as important, though, that we certainly don't expect to be free:  food, for example, or sufficient clothing for the winter.  The argument seems to be that birth control ought to be free (and indeed it is, in the form of abstinence, a form of birth control that Catholics consider it a virtue to materially assist:  but I digress).  It ought to be free, and any employer ought to be sure that any of their employees receives it as free.

This is really an astonishing demand.  I could understand demanding it at cost:  we could structure an argument whereby insurance companies are understood to receive a reasonable profit, and as part of the price of approving the practice of the business in the state, we mandate that they arrange to provide certain critical medications to their consumers at cost.  We might ask, even then, why birth control or abortifacients would be the medicine we chose to occupy this position of special importance -- surely life-saving drugs would be a more worthy choice?  Still, at least at cost could conceivably be a reasonable demand.

Free, though?  Nothing is free.  Everyone knows this.

There is a parallel with last week's Komen feud, in which it was asserted that -- having once given Planned Parenthood money -- a kind of moral obligation existed to continue providing money for free.  Now we have an obligation, apparently on all of us who participate in employer-sponsored health plans, to provide pills for free.

How could any of us have come under an obligation to provide these things for free?  How could such an obligation arise?  "By law" is not an adequate answer, but it appears to be the only one.

UPDATE:  An answer of sorts comes in this piece from Think Progress:

Manmade global warming is one of the most troubling symptoms of economic and social injustice around the planet, and the ”countries in the developing world least responsible for the growing emissions are likely to experience the heaviest impact of climate change, with women bearing the greatest toll.” Researchers have found that empowering women to reduce unplanned pregnancies is one of the most cost-effective ways to combat greenhouse pollution, as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson discussed at the Durban climate conference last December:
In addressing climate resilience, Robinson stressed the importance of focusing on health and burden impacts of climate change. One of the keys is access to reproductive health for women.

If all the assumptions made here were true, it would perhaps provide a ground from which an obligation of this sort could arise.  We could point to a common good -- the survival of the planet -- which might obligate all of us to contribute to it.  It might even be a good of a high enough order to explain why we would prefer the Pill to life-saving drugs.

Of course, all of these assumptions are controversial, so the ground is an unsteady one to say the least.  Nevertheless, this kind of argument grounds support for families:  we distribute the costs of public education to everyone, not just families with children, because we recognize that we all have a stake in ensuring that the next generation comes, and is educated and capable of undertaking the work of continuing the civilization.  Education is not free -- you must pay property taxes if you own property, and frequently also sales taxes, to support the local schools.  Still, it is offered below cost, which means that the cost is distributed.

The argument for public support of contraception and abortifacients is even stronger, since it demands that these things be free.  I would like to say that the two policies are different as well in that the one is in support of flourishing families and fecundity, while the other is in support of withering and barrenness; which is to say, that the difference is between life and death.  That may not be fair, though; if the supporter of free birth control believes that the planet shall otherwise die, they are in a fashion on the side of life.  They simply believe that life will not be possible but for a very few of us, on very much more parsimonious terms.

21 comments:

BillT said...

Manmade global warming is one of the most troubling symptoms of economic and social injustice around the planet...

Manmade global warming is about the only scam we have left in our campaign to redistribute wealth on a global scale...

There. Fixed it for 'em.

BillT said...

They simply believe that life will not be possible but for a very few of us, on very much more parsimonious terms.

And they're usually the same ones who spike trees to sabotage sawmills (spiking usually kills the trees, btw) and stage massive protests against nuclear power plants, thereby assuring that those parsimonius terms arrive sooner.

Walt Kelly once had Porkypine observe "I notice that all those folks favorin' birth control made sure that *they* got borned, first..."

Anonymous said...

You seem to misunderstand the most fundamental aspect of the way insurance - health, property, accident - or otherwise - the costs are distributed across the pool of insured. Insurance as a business has a collective element to it, always has. Non-smokers pay for smokers. Slim fit people pay for those who are not. People who have property with a low chance of fire help pay for those with a higher probability of fire. Single men pay for the vasectomies of married men who do not want anymore children.Likewise men who believe every gamete is sacred pay for the lifestyle of those who do not.

Redistribution of wealth? Conservatives have structured how we value capital versus labor such that we live in a pyramid where most of the value of GDP is redistributed upwards. First, for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income, average real after-tax household income grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007 while, for others, income grew much less: 40 percent for the 60 percent of the population in the middle of the income scale, only 20 percent of the population with the lowest income. The result was that, between 2005 and 2007, the after-tax income received by the 20 percent of the population with the highest income exceeded the after-tax income of the remaining 80 percent.

E Hines said...

The argument for public support of contraception and abortifacients is even stronger....

A quibble: I would say "fiercer." It's not a stronger argument; as you say, it's grounded on shaky ground at best. The underlying premises are too flawed and too much based on bad "data."

You seem to misunderstand the most fundamental aspect of the way insurance...the costs are distributed across the pool of insured. Insurance as a business has a collective element to it, always has. Non-smokers pay for smokers. Slim fit people pay for those who are not.

This is the Progressive view of insurance, the logical outcome of which includes Obamacare, which converts the health insurance industry (as a start) into a privately run, government-mandated welfare program.

Insurance is, if left to the freedom of a truly free market, a risk transfer business wherein a fee, based on the risk assumed, is paid by the one with the risk to another to assume the risk, or a useful portion of it. This resulted in one or both of two things: your smokers would pay for smokers while your non-smokers would pay only for themselves. Or, IFF a market existed, a policy could be constructed that would mix smokers and non-smokers in a way that would convince both of them to buy it. Of course in the more segregated situation, the smokers, having a higher risk of payout, would pay a higher premium than the non-smokers would for their non-smoking policy.

Under the current distortion of insurance, though (and this exists at the state level, as well), non-smokers are Dragooned into paying for smokers, as well as themselves (and they're not allowed to not buy a policy even for themselves), by being forced to buy the only policy allowed to exist: that collective one, regardless of whether a legitimate market exists. This is viewed as somehow "fair."

First, for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income, average real after-tax household income grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007 while, for others, income grew much less....

You write this as though it must be bad on its face. Yet I've seen no evidence that it is, or must be.

For one thing, not everyone is equally capable: equal opportunity will, of course, lead to unequal outcomes, if each is equally free to realize his own potential.

Since the current recession began, it's true enough that vertical economic mobility has been greatly reduced, but that's the result of federal economic policies that suppress economic growth and hiring while actively punishing the successful for their success. Without economic opportunity, vertical mobility is necessarily reduced.

A question: the top 10% pay 70% of the income taxes collected, while the bottom 50% pay 3%-4% of the income taxes collected. What would be a fairer distribution of tax collections?

The desire to help our neighbors is both laudable and presents a moral imperative that ought to be satisfied. But it is a personal imperative. When this is transferred to government (finally to tie this back to some semblance of Grim's post), both we lose our own morality, and government becomes too much involved in it. And the drive grows stronger toward our needs--and our wants--becoming demanded to be free. Without regard to who will pay for that "free," or how that "free" will be paid.

Eric Hines

DL Sly said...

" Nothing is free. Everyone knows this."

Well, until 2014 breathing is still free. After that...you'll have to pay your pound of flesh so that *anonymous* and friends can kill the next generation....

wait for it...

"for the children".

Grim said...

You seem to misunderstand the most fundamental aspect of the way insurance...

I think Mr. Hines is correct to say that what you are offering as "the most fundamental aspect" of insurance is really just one view of insurance.

The function of insurers (as I was taught in economics class, O these many years ago) is to translate risk into uncertainty. The risk may be assumed or it may be necessary (as with health insurance); but either way, the risk is very dangerous, because we can't plan for it. You cannot plan for the unknown.

Uncertainty, in this technical sense, is what the insurer provides. "What if I wreck my car?" now has an answer: and though whether you will ever have a serious wreck remains unknown, if you do, you know what the outcome is. Therefore, you can plan for it.

Car insurance is a good example of a kind of insurance where 'the thin pay for the fat' does not apply. Actuaries determine your risk individually, which is why it costs more to insure a teenage boy than a teenage girl.

Conservatives have structured how we value capital versus labor such that we live in a pyramid where most of the value of GDP is redistributed upwards.

It may in fact be the case that we live in such a pyramid, but it is certainly not because of conservatives. The reason that capital and labor are valued as they are is that capital can be substituted for labor. For example, a man pulling up stuff with a rope (labor) can be substituted by an elevator (capital).

However, the labor movement in the West has been very successful at raising the cost of labor. Thus, capital is relatively more valuable; and where labor is still preferable, it can be found far more cheaply elsewhere.

That's why you see capital in the West continuing to profit at rates that outstrip labor in the West. What you need to do to see the whole picture is look at labor generally, as for example in China. Labor there (though vastly poorer than labor in America on a per capita basis) has grown wildly more profitable over the last period. That's simply the nature of the market.

Texan99 said...

The growing tendency to confuse insurance with subsidized goodies is making a lot of policy arguments unintelligible.

Insurance originally served to collectivize exposure to expensive and somewhat uncommon risks. You don't insure yourself against hunger tomorrow, because you're virtually certain to experience it if you don't acquire some food. You do insure yourself against your ship going down on the way back from the East Indies, because although it doesn't happen to every ship, it happens often enough to be a problem, but rarely enough that you'll find it more efficient to hedge against it by pooling your luck with that of 100 other shipowners. This system works pretty well as long as it's treated the way EHines describes above: people set the fee according to transparent rules, and customers make up their minds whether the cost is worth it.

When employers started handing out insurance coverage instead of salary increases in order to circumvent wage freezes after WWII, we started to confuse insurance with subsidized benefits. Now instead of asking whether a risk is the sort that can be usefully insured, we ask whether the absence of the bad event is a good thing and, therefore, whether good voters have a human right to it. Anyone who objects to the freebie must be in favor of babies with measles. Where does the freebie come from? It grows on trees, which the 1% are hiding in their backyards.

But as Grim says, there's no obvious link between "A is a good thing" and "other people should pay for your A" -- unless you're a child and the other people are your parents.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anonymous, as many others, has failed to note that the rich people at the beginning of studies are not the same as the rich people at the end. Moving toward greater inequality at any snapshot is indeed worth discussing. But life isn't a snapshot.

Until you get that enormous point and intentionally and visibly take it into consideration in your arguments, they have little value. Full stop. Get the basics.


I have another, not-mentioned worry behind all this contraception discussion. I don't think it is consciously in the minds of many, but the eugenics-lite aspect of trying to get poor women to have fewer babies may be part of the support.

Anonymous said...

My health insurance has gone up $300 per quarter over the past year in order to pay for services that I do not use. The latest hike pushed the bill to $1050 per quarter in order to cover birth control and reproductive services that I do not use and that I formerly opted out of.

I substitute teach at a Christian (generally Catholic) school. I do not expect their benefits to provide birth control - that is part of working for that sort of employer. There's no need for the federal government to force the Catholics (or orthodox Jews, or anyone else) to provide something that we, their employees, know in advance that the institution disagrees with and that the institution cannot in good faith provide.
LittleRed1

Grim said...

Our insurance is pathetic -- we are allowed three doctor visits a year with a co-pay, and after that it's on us. Not three visits per family member, three visits total.

It doesn't cost much, and mostly exists so that in the event of a real catastrophe, there would be at least something left for the surviving family members. Still, it's a real problem that decent insurance simply isn't affordable now.

So, I'm not totally opposed to reform ideas that people have to put forward. This one, though, seems like a very strong claim (free for all women, regardless of ability to pay) without an accompanying argument for why it should be so prioritized. We don't provide free lifesaving care, even, except to those who absolutely cannot pay for it.

(And yes, AVI, the eugenics-lite concept did occur to me: I kept hearing the matriarch from Troll Valley preaching about the importance of eugenics for what was even then called 'social progress').

E Hines said...

We don't provide free lifesaving care, even, except to those who absolutely cannot pay for it.

We don't even have a good idea of what "absolutely cannot pay for it" means because government has no idea of the actual cost of things, and no one has an idea of what individuals actually can afford to pay. This ranges from candidate Obama's $20k for a leg amputation claim in 2008 (and he's not alone in that ignorance) to my own situation some years prior to that. When my wife had her biopsy and subsequent bilateral mastectomy, we were uninsured by choice, and we paid cash, in full, for both procedures. While living at around 20%-25% above the then Federal Poverty Guideline. The expense hurt, but it was far from breaking our piggy bank.

Folks can do more than lots of people think they can, if government would only stay out of the way. Until we have a better understanding of "can't pay," we're better off without government dictating thresholds to us.

Eric Hines

Dad29 said...

access to reproductive health for women

Put another way, pregnancy is "non-health"; it's "disease."

"I set before you Life and Death. Choose Life" --Deut 30:19.

The interesting parallel to that verse is Deut. 4:1, the "Sh'ma, Yisroel!" language, which allows Israel 'the land that I gave you' IFF the law of life is obeyed.

BillT said...

My health care is -- in theory -- free, provided by the government (i.e., the VA) as an earned benefit for 37 years of military service and, in the process, becoming somewhat damaged along the line.

In actuality, I have no health care unless I purchase insurance on the outside or pay out of pocket, because -- and this is a direct quote -- "You were an officer, and you made more than an enlisted guy, so you can afford to pay for any treatment you need."

When Obie was pushing his program, he spotlighted the VA as *the* example of the sterling health care the gummint provides its wards...

Cass said...

First, for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income, average real after-tax household income grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007 while, for others, income grew much less: 40 percent for the 60 percent of the population in the middle of the income scale, only 20 percent of the population with the lowest income. The result was that, between 2005 and 2007, the after-tax income received by the 20 percent of the population with the highest income exceeded the after-tax income of the remaining 80 percent.

Gee. That sounds really unfair, until you account for the frequency of married, two income households in each income quintile.

Of the top quintile, something on the order of 80-90 percent are married and most households have at least two full time workers.

When you get to the bottom quintile, the average household doesn't even have ONE full time worker and few are married.

It's downright bizarre to look at income as though there were no connection between total hours worked and compensation.

Texan99 said...

But, Cass! According to figures quoted this week by CoyoteBlog, 49% of young people recently were forced by our dire economic times to take jobs they didn't really want, just to pay the bills. Yes, you heard me right. So no more of your elitist sniffing, Missy. You don't understand the pain of working.

Grim said...

On the other hand, the U-6 unemployment numbers track an awful lot of people who are underemployed as well as many who are unemployed: ones who want jobs (or more hours) but can't find them.

Since we're talking about the period from 1979 to now, the depth of the current downturn is not entirely relevant to the point you're making; but it's more important to the young people, who may have only been in the work force during a period -- nearly four years now, and apt to last much longer -- when jobs were very hard to come by.

Pay rates have dropped a lot too: I remember when every job I saw advertised was offering $10/hour, but now people are happy to take seasonal jobs that pay below minimum wage and offer less than full time hours, if they can find such jobs at all.

E Hines said...

I'd like to have my ideal job, too. ...49% of young people recently were forced by our dire economic times to take jobs they didn't really want, just to pay the bills. Still sounds like a whine to me.

Eric Hines

Cass said...

But, Cass! According to figures quoted this week by CoyoteBlog, 49% of young people recently were forced by our dire economic times to take jobs they didn't really want, just to pay the bills.

Yeah - I saw that over at TH's place. Hard to believe, isn't it?

BillT said...

According to figures quoted this week by CoyoteBlog, 49% of young people recently were forced by our dire economic times to take jobs they didn't really want, just to pay the bills.

And that is a recent development -- how?

bthun said...

According to figures quoted this week by CoyoteBlog, 49% of young people recently were forced by our dire economic times to take jobs they didn't really want, just to pay the bills.

And that is a recent development -- how?


Heh. About a half century ago the old man explained to one of my older brothers, while I sat in on the conversation, that such sacrifice was an expected, no make that inescapable feature in the life of a young man. What's the current saying? Embrace the suck.

Sheesh, I guess there just ain't no cure...

Bob said...

linked.