Birth control is a hot button issue. It’s availability to the masses is more than a political matter; it has far-reaching economic consequences in a welfare state. When it comes to government-financed contraception, people land all over the map. So, should the new health care plan cover birth control?
Posing the question isn’t just for kicks. There is a movement gaining steam to provide free birth control as part of the Affordable Health Care Act. The White House issued new rules as a part of health care reform requiring health insurance companies to provide access to routine preventative care at no cost to members. That means no co-pays regardless of where your insurance comes from: employers, the government, or individual policies. Now women’s health advocate groups, including Planned Parenthood, and even some employer groups believe contraception should be added to the list and deemed preventative care.
The Department of Health and Human Services, led by pro-choice Obama appointee Kathleen Sebelius, will spend the next 6 to 18 months researching women’s health before determining specific guidelines for women’s “preventive health care.”
It’s clear that most sexually active women would love to have “free” birth control as long as they can. I’ll throw up the quotes around free one time, as long as we remember that nothing which comes from the government is free. It costs taxpayers and has opportunity costs beyond that. For you girls and women in Planned Parenthood, this just means your parents, grandparents, teachers, bosses, co-workers, friends, and neighbors are paying for your contraception. If economics can teach us anything, always be cautious with the word free.
Currently, public initiatives offer free, or heavily subsidized, birth control in some states through organizations like Planned Parenthood. With most state budgets in the tank, these options may not be there forever. Some religious groups scoff at the idea of publicly-funded birth control as it flies in the face of their spiritual beliefs; and more seriously, public financing for abortion. We can save abortion for another day, however, it’s safe to say you won’t find too many public health experts on the platform that distributing birth control is a bad idea.
One such religious voice chimed into this debate. Deirdre McQuade, the spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated, “Fertility is not a disease to be cured, and the government should not treat it as that.” So presumably, Mrs. McQuade is against publicly-funded birth control. With closer examination of the Catholic Bishops website, one reads that “natural family planning” is the term for their method of choice. This means husbands and wives engaging in intercourse during the least fertile points of a woman’s cycle, without contraception of any kind. Fair enough Catholic Bishops, but this is where things get dicey. We live in a country of socialized costs, with welfare rolls, bailouts, public retirement funds, and public health insurance funds. The scope of our welfare state is only growing with new government initiatives, expansion of old ones, and a growing (and aging) population. Our regulated capitalism/socialism experiment has tipped further in the socialism direction. Add in a broke or bankrupt society at local, state, federal, and consumer levels, and we have a problem brewing here.
The religious ideals of Mrs. McQuade unfortunately do not mesh with the reality of the current economic and political climate. The day health care was socialized was the day I now had a financial stake in my neighbor’s lifestyle choices. Maybe I should be inspecting the neighbor’s trash for fast food wrappers, and if necessary, picketing their front lawn for nutritional change. I’ll be forking over the dough for their future diabetes and triple bypass anyway, so there are certainly worse things I could spend my time doing (watching 16 and Pregnant comes to mind).
When 13 to 25-year-old females have children, what is the impact to the welfare system? A lot of estimates are out there from places like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) National Longitudinal Studies to individual groups. What I think we can all agree on is that the impact isn’t good. While fertility is not a disease, public bankruptcy is. This is why I would advocate public distribution of contraception, and for girls up through the age of 25…at least. Now, I would also advocate for a welfare state a fraction of its current size and future trajectory. But as long as we’re all on the hook for one another’s poor decisions, we must spend money up front to prevent sizable cost anchors in the future. As public utility goes, planned pregnancies have been shown to be healthier for both the mom and baby. As far as religious beliefs are concerned, I’m sure that abstinence is the solution offered for unwanted pregnancy among unmarried couples. While a perfectly fine belief for a private individual, family or organization to have, it’s not a realistic public initiative. Even if it were possible, I don’t know that I want to live in a world where all unmarried people aren’t having sex. Tension would be at all-time highs. Further, natural family planning between married couples ignores the fact that humans have premarital sex. As long as we’re a welfare state, we can’t ignore facts.
The National Business Group on Health commissioned Price Waterhouse Coopers to study the estimated cost to health plans of providing preventive family planning services. The study determined that the cost is about $40 per member annually. These are, of course, private plans looked at in the study. However, if you wanted to tax me $40 extra each year to help prevent many, many pregnancies, I’m all in.
In principal I believe people should shell out their own cash to practice safe sex. The financial consequences of not doing so should also be shouldered by the individual alone. But my beliefs (wishes) don’t really hold water in real life. Some people are literally too embarrassed to go and buy condoms in a store from a stranger; while, simultaneously, unwilling to be abstinent. I guess playing baby roulette is more fun. Some people tend to rely on others when they should rely on themselves. People act recklessly at times, too, no more so when under the influence. And, shockingly, sexually active teenagers tend not to be reliable either.
So the government should pay for birth control, and for the right reasons; not because women have to shell out loads of cash over the course of their lives. According to MSNBC, the average woman spends “roughly 5 years trying to get pregnant or being pregnant.” Compare that to the roughly 30 years she spends trying not to have babies. If women want to have sex while not having children or contracting diseases, they should be expected to pay for it themselves. Men should also have the same expectation for personal responsibility, although the pregnancy thing isn’t quite parallel. At least that’s what I’ve gathered. Even though we should be responsible as individuals, some of us inevitably won’t, and all of us will pay for it in the current entitlement/welfare framework.
Religious groups should not get in the way of government-financed birth control. If they do, then they can take over the welfare rolls, which consequently, is a core mission for some of them anyways (taking care of the downtrodden).
To tie a bow on this, the government should finance birth control; not because we are our brother’s keeper, but only as a result of engaging in entitlement programs to the degree we do. In other words, government should finance birth control, not because we are our brother’s keeper, but only as a result of engaging in entitlement programs to be our brother’s keeper. When it comes to publicly funding contraception, we can’t afford not to.
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