Despite encountering a sizeable amount of criticism from Catholic bishops and other religious leaders, the Obama administration’s spin machine is still hard at work defending the HHS contraception mandate. In recent weeks they have attempted to make the case that the mandate is good fiscal policy. Recently, the office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), located within the Department of Health and Human Services, released an issue brief arguing that contraception coverage will make Obamacare more cost-effective.
Unfortunately, the evidence presented in the ASPE issue brief is, to put it charitably, unpersuasive. First the memo claims that insurance costs did not go up when either Hawaii required employer group health plans to cover contraceptive coverage in its health insurance plan or when Congress required plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program to cover FDA approved contraceptives. However, it is a possible that a high percentage of both employer group health plans in Hawaii and health plans in the FEHB were already covering contraception prior to the respective mandates. Furthermore, later in the memo, separate analyses by three respected actuarial firms concluded that the mandate will increase health insurance costs.
However, the issue brief attempts to make the case that any increased costs from providing contraceptives will be offset by reductions in the numbers of unwanted pregnancies. However, again the evidence is spurious. The ASPE brief favorably cites a Guttmacher study which purportedly finds that public contraception funding prevents millions of unintended pregnancies per year. However, the population that would obtain contraception coverage through an employer mandate would be higher income — and have better access to contraception — than those who obtain contraception through public programs. More importantly this Guttmacher study arrives at this calculation by assuming that in the absence of public contraception programs, women would neither obtain contraception on their own nor change their sexual behavior.
More importantly, separate studies by both Guttmacher and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have both shown that very few sexually active women forgo contraception due to either cost or lack of availability. Indeed, for much of February, the Obama administration has taken considerable pains to make the case that the HHS contraceptive mandate would offer sizeable economic and public-health benefits while only affecting a small number of conservative Catholics. In actuality, however, they have presented very little evidence to justify these claims.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan –Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.