The HHS Mandate: Why the Cost Issue Is Irrelevant
One issue that mainstream and even some Catholic commentators seem to be bungling to my mind is the relevance of costs. According to the Obama Administration, under the new rule insurance companies will provide sterilization and contraception free to employees of Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities. Further, the Administration has claimed that insurance companies are happy to do this because the costs of contraceptives and sterilization are lower than the costs of pregnancy and all of the associated doctors visits. This certainly seems plausible. Pregnancy and the associated doctors visits cost a lot of money. I’ve heard it claimed that policies without contraceptives typically cost more than their counterparts that include them, and so it’s possible that the new policies will be even cheaper than the prior policies (absent all of the costs imposed by other new regulations, but that’s another story).
But this just brings into starker relief the fact that no compromise has been offered at all. Let’s assume for a moment that it is actually cheaper for an insurance company to offer sterilization and contraceptives without charge than to not offer them at all. In that case, Catholic hospitals and universities have historically been able to purchase plans at a higher cost that enables them to avoid providing coverage that violates their consciences. The original rule said that they could no longer purchase such plans, and most right thinking people recognized this as an infringement on religious liberty. The new rule says: “good news, you won’t have to pay more than you currently do!” Which, of course, is completely non responsive.
Insurance companies will continue to price the plans based on the services provided and the levels of risk posed by the participants, so Catholic institutions will have to start paying for plans with contraception and sterilization priced in. I am not quite sure how anyone views the scenario above as an “accommodation,” much less an accommodation to religious liberty. And the evidence suggests that the Obama Administration did not expect the USCCB to either. That’s why they did not inform the Bishops of the proposed policy prior to the morning of the release, but had statements from NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and Sister Keehan supporting this “accommodation” lined up. All of the relevant legal and moral objections to the original rule apply to the current rule. I expect the new rule – if it remains in place – to be strongly and successfully challenged in the courts.