The Campaign Spot

Birth Control Can’t Be Simultaneously Inexpensive and Too Expensive

Dear liberal friends,

One of the two statements below is true.

1) Providing co-pay-free birth control to all citizens represents such a national priority that it is worth raising the premiums for everyone who has health insurance.

2) Providing co-pay-free birth control to all citizens is not enough of a national priority that it is worth raising the premiums for everyone who has health insurance.

There is no option three. There is no way to require insurers to cover a good or service without raising premiums for everyone. Throughout this debate, our friends on the left have argued that birth control is simultaneously so inexpensive that insurers and employers have no reason to complain about being forced to provide it without co-pays AND that it is too expensive for consumers to purchase for themselves separate from their insurers.

What is the cost of birth control? Planned Parenthood puts the cost at “$15–$50 a month.” ABC News recently reported, “Generics are available at Walmart pharmacies, for example, for around $9 a month.”

Obviously, some women pay more, or require more expensive versions of birth control because of their particular health needs. And if providing birth control to anyone who needs it is genuinely a national priority of the federal government, perhaps we could tailor policies to focus on ensuring its availability to those whose health requires more expensive versions. But even in those circumstances, it is unclear why the Reign of Kathleen Sebelius would require no co-pays.

If the federal government has deemed $9 per month too much for any citizen to bear, why would any co-pay for any other medical treatment or service be considered a reasonable cost to bear?

Jeff Dobbs notices that when Obama defended this proposal, he said women will “no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries.” ($9 x 12 months = $108.) He also recalls Michelle Obama scoffing at a $600-per-year tax cut enacted by the Bush administration.

So “a couple hundred dollars” ($108 in some cases) is a lot when the Obama administration needs it to be a lot, but $600 is minuscule when it needs it to be minuscule.

“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

UPDATE: One of the liberal arguments is that the government forcing insurers to provide birth control, without co-pays, will somehow be a cost-saving measure for all:

The truth is that both insurers and employers who self-insure save money in the long run by covering contraception. So much money is saved that it makes financial sense to waive co-pays and deductibles. A 2000 study by the National Business Group on Health estimates that not providing contraceptive coverage in employee health plans winds up costing employers 15% to 17% more than providing such coverage.

Two thoughts: One, if covering co-pay-free birth control genuinely and consistently does cost the insurer and employer less, one wonders why any insurer would not offer it. To believe this article, one would have to believe that health insurers, so often demonized for their callous greed, are acting against their own financial interest.

Oh, by the way, take a look at the membership of the National Business Group of Health. It includes Pfizer, Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck, four of the country’s largest birth-control-pill manufacturers.

I suppose we should be glad that liberals no longer find large pharmaceutical companies to be the root of all evil. Still, it is rather fascinating that our friends on the left are gladly citing a study, funded in part by those oft-demonized pharmaceutical companies, as an objective assessment of the value of buying those pharmaceutical products for every woman of childbearing age in America.

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