Insuring the Uninsurable - Reason.com saor christian louboutin

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Fine, but what’s it got to do with insurance?

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“Some 99% of women in the U.S. who are or have been sexually active at some point in their lives have used birth control, including 98% of Catholic women, according to the Guttmacher Institute.”

Fine, but what’s it got to do with—oh never mind. I’ll answer myself: It’s got nothing to do with insurance.

Pooling Risk

Insurance arose as a way for individuals to pool their risk of some low-probability/high-cost misfortune befalling them. It shouldn’t be necessary to point this out, but coming of child-bearing age and choosing to use contraception is not an insurable event. It’s a volitional act. It may have good consequences for the person taking the action and society at large, but it is still a volitional act. It makes no sense to talk about insuring against the eventuality that a particular person will use contraception. Strictly speaking, contraception has nothing to do with insurance.

Unfortunately, we don’t speak strictly about health insurance. One reason we don’t is the tax code. Since World War II compensation for labor in the form of employment-based health insurance does not count as taxable income. (Money spent independently on health insurance does count.) The tax code thus creates perverse incentives to 1) depend on one’s employer for medical insurance, 2) shift income from liquid cash to restricted insurance benefits, and 3) define uninsurable events as insurable. Would someone care to explain how well-baby care can be insurable?

So we have taxation to thank for yet another feature of the modern world: the corruption of language. In the medical realm insurance no long means insurance.

Instead it’s a game by which we get other people to pay for stuff. Well, that’s not quite accurate. It’s actually a game in which we pretend that other people pay for stuff. Look, contraception, mammograms, colonoscopies, and well-baby care are not free. (See my “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Mammogram.”) They require labor and resources for which the owners wish—not unreasonably—to be compensated. Someone has to pay. If employers are compelled nominally to pay for the coverage, does anyone seriously doubt that employees will actually pay through lower cash wages? Employers are not charities. So even without a copayment, we all know deep down that we as workers pay for the coverage. (Which by the way is likely to be more expensive than the services would be in a freed market, since insurance companies will charge overhead and more for their trouble. Also subsidized demand raises prices.) Nevertheless, the truth is so obscured that people can pretend they’re getting something for free.

So the government-generated system treats us like children, and alas most of us seem happy to be treated that way.

Obama’s “Compromise”

Under pressure, the Obama administration was expected to announce a “compromise” under which exempt Catholic employers would not have to pay for contraception coverage. Instead, insurance companies would provide the coverage directly to employees. Since under Health and Human Services rules, this coverage must be free, the Obama administration is in effect directing insurers to eat the cost. But insurers are profit-making companies, not charities, so we may expect them to pass the cost to someone else. But to whom? There’s only one possibility: nonexempt employers, which means in fact employees of nonexempt companies. So the grand compromise shifts the cost from a small minority of employees to the vast majority — all in the name of religious freedom. All workers in nonexempt companies and institutions will take a pay cut.

Sheldon Richman is editor of The Freeman, where this article originally appeared.

Sheldon Richman is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute and chairman of the board of trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society. He blogs at Free Association and has authored several books including, most recently, America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited.

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