Friday, February 10, 2012

ObamaCare, Catholics, Mandates, Costs, Freedom and Taxpayers

A firestorm has erupted over the new federal health care law's (aka ObamaCare) provision that contraception services be covered by insurers.

But rather than get into the details of this heavily politicized debate, let's instead search for the larger meaning.

Transformers uses the example of ObamaCare's contraceptive services mandate to illustrate the much bigger problem associated with the broader intrusions of government on the individual freedoms of American citizens:

"The American Catholic Church, from left to right, is now being handed a lesson in the hierarchy of raw political authority. One hopes they and their supporters will recognize that they have not been singled out. The federal government's forcings routinely touch other groups in this country—schools, doctors, farmers, businesses. The church's fight is not the whole or the end of it.

Since he appeared, no other word has been invoked more often to describe Barack Obama's purposes than "transformative." Last year, Mr. Obama began to be criticized by some of his supporters for being insufficiently transformative while holding the powers of the presidency—this despite passing the biggest social entitlement since 1965, an $800 billion stimulus bill, raising federal spending to 24% of GDP and passing the Dodd-Frank restructuring of the U.S. financial industry. Naturally an interviewer this week asked Mr. Obama why he hadn't been more "transformative." The president replied that he deserved a second term, because "we're not done." In term two, it will be Uncle Sam, Transformer.

For many years, Catholic Charities U.S.A. has taken federal money to enlarge its budget. The people who run the Catholic Church, though not everyone in the pews, thought this was a good bargain. Here is the head of Catholic Charities, in 1997, describing the relationship: "We have been partners with government to help government do what it wants to do and what we believe it should do.". . .

Over decades, this deal with the federal government didn't change, even as Catholic bishops closed churches and parochial schools across the country for lack of funds. Here is Sr. Carol Keehan's statement when the House in 2009 passed the Obama health-care bill with only one Republican aye vote: "The Catholic Health Association applauds the U.S. House of Representatives and President Obama for enacting health care legislation that will bring security and health to millions of American families." Let the record show that the Catholic bishops opposed the legislation, fearing a conflict with the church's beliefs.

So here we are, with the government demanding that the church hold up its end of a Faustian bargain that was supposed to permit it to perform limitless acts of virtue. Instead, what the government believes the deal is about, more than anything else, is compliance.

Politically bloodless liberals would respond that, net-net, government forcings do much social good despite breaking a few eggs, such as the Catholic Church's First Amendment sensibilities. That is one view. But the depth of anger among Catholics over this suggests they recognize more is at stake here than political results. They are right. The question raised by the Catholic Church's battle with ObamaCare is whether anyone can remain free of a U.S. government determined to do what it wants to do, at whatever cost.

Older Americans have sought for years to drop out of Medicare and contract for their own health insurance. They cannot without forfeiting their Social Security payments. They effectively are locked in. Nor can the poor escape Medicaid, even as the care it gives them degrades. Farmers, ranchers and loggers struggled for years to protect their livelihoods beneath uncompromising interpretations of federal environmental laws. They, too, had to comply. University athletic programs were ground up by the U.S. Education Department's rote, forced gender balancing of every sport offered.

With the transformers, it never stops. . . .

The Catholic Church has stumbled into the central battle of the 2012 presidential campaign: What are the limits to Barack Obama's transformative presidency? The Catholic left has just learned one answer: When Mr. Obama says, "Everyone plays by the same set of rules," it means they conform to his rules. What else could it mean?

Anyone who signs up for more of this deal by assuming that it will never force them to fall into line is getting what they deserve."

That seems bad enough, but let's withhold judgment for now. Read on.

The Real Trouble With the Birth-Control Mandate advocates less governmental intrusion and more individual freedom:

"When the administration affirmed last month that church-affiliated employers must buy health insurance that covers birth control, the outcry was instant. Critics complained that certain institutions should be exempt as a matter of religious freedom. Although the ruling was meant to be final, presidential advisers said this week that the administration might look for a compromise.

Critics are missing the larger point. Why should the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decree that any of us must pay for "insurance" that covers contraceptives?

I put "insurance" in quotes for a reason. Insurance is supposed to mean a contract, by which a company pays for large, unanticipated expenses in return for a premium: expenses like your house burning down, your car getting stolen or a big medical bill.

Insurance is a bad idea for small, regular and predictable expenses. There are good reasons that your car insurance company doesn't add $100 per year to your premium and then cover oil changes, and that your health insurance doesn't charge $50 more per year and cover toothpaste. You'd have to fill out mountains of paperwork, the oil-change and toothpaste markets would become much less competitive, and you'd end up spending more."

Q-How will this "insurance" mandate for contraceptive services help contain the rising costs of health care, one stated reason for enacting ObamaCare in the first place? A-It won't.

Q-Who will pay these "mandate" related costs? A-We all will.

Q-And what choice will citizens have, Catholic or not? A-None.

Here's the relevant commentary about cost sharing:

"Remember, we're supposed to be worrying about skyrocketing health-care expenses. Doubling the number of wellness visits and free pills sounds great, but who's going to pay for it? There is a liberal dream that by mandating coverage the government can make something free.

Sorry. Every increase in coverage means an increase in premiums. If your employer is paying for your health insurance, he could be paying you more in salary instead. Or, he could be lowering prices and selling his product to you and all consumers more cheaply. Someone is paying. Not even HHS tries to claim that these "recommended preventive services" will lower overall costs."

So much for cost control. Now let's deliver the knock-out punch.

"Here's a good mandate: Let's mandate that every time a government official says that the government is going to "help" some category of voter, he or she has to say who they are going to hurt in the same sentence. Because it has to be someone". . . .

The problem with ObamaCare's required coverage for contraceptives isn't simply about freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment. It's a much broader issue than that. Read on:

"The critics fell for a trap. By focusing on an exemption for church-related institutions, critics effectively admit that it is right for the rest of us to be subjected to this sort of mandate. They accept the horribly misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and they resign themselves to chipping away at its edges. No, we should throw it out, and fix the terrible distortions in the health-insurance and health-care markets.

Sure, churches should be exempt. We should all be exempt."

But we won't be.

So what will actually happen when the dust finally settles? My guess is that politics will prevail, the Obama administration will find a way to appease the officials of the Catholic Church, and the broader issues described herein will largely go undiscussed.

If so, that's too bad, especially the recommendation about the government in the future being "mandated" to tell voters who will be hurt each time a government official tries to take credit for helping someone.

Let us always make an earnest effort to see the unseen, in other words.

My own view is that we should be free to choose to buy or not to buy our own toothpaste and similar affordable items from time to time. That includes contraceptives and other health services as well.

Thanks. Bob.

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