Health insurance doesn’t pay for toothpaste, so why should it cover birth control — for free?

John Cochrane, a professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, has penned an outstanding piece for The Wall Street Journal today explaining why the ObamaCare birth control mandate is not just an affront to the First Amendment but an assault on common sense.

Cochrane explains that health insurance premiums could be raised by $50 per year to cover toothpaste, but you’d be saddled with mounds of paperwork and you would wind up spending more money. It is the same with birth control, except under ObamaCare the cost — free to those who get it — is shifted to those who have no need for it, such as older couples, couples trying to get pregnant and gays and lesbians.

Insurance was designed to spread the risk. In return for premiums from a large group, individuals could be protected from the financial disaster of large, unanticipated expenses, such as fire, car crash or major illness. And the insurer could make a profit.

The Department of Health and Human Services came up with this mandate that employer provided insurance must cover birth control by rationalizing that women should “have access to a full range of recommended preventive services.”

Cochrane observes, “Notice the doublespeak confusion of ‘access’ and ‘cost.’ I have ‘access’ to toothpaste because I have two bucks in my pocket and a competitive supplier. Anyone who can afford a cell phone can afford pills or condoms.

“Poor women who can’t afford birth control are a red herring in this debate. HHS isn’t limiting this mandate to the poor anyway. We all have to pay. The very poor typically don’t have employer-provided health insurance in the first place.”

The professor also points out two obvious unintended consequences. Since birth control pills will be free to the end recipient, there is no incentive for the pharmaceutical companies to attempt to come up with cheaper pills or non-prescription ones. Since pills are covered and condoms aren’t, the government might unwittingly be contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

It is all a futile and expensive manipulation of the market for health care — a redistribution from one group to another in the form of hidden tax that destroys free market incentives to improve care or cut costs. What a deal!

13 comments on “Health insurance doesn’t pay for toothpaste, so why should it cover birth control — for free?

  1. Athos says:

    Great. Now we’ve given the libs something more to add…..toothpaste to our medical coverage!

    Viagra is bad enough!

  2. Oops! Didn’t mean to give the libs any more things we could give me, Athos.

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  3. Athos says:

    Look out Chicken Ranch! Here I come;)

  4. Steve says:

    Mouthwash. Not included in the contraceptive clause. This could be an un intended result. The bad breath preventative. 😉

  5. Anonymous says:

    If someone is too poor to afford birth control, they’re gonna be too poor to raise a child. so the government would have to give support, so in the long run, government still spending money anyway ;but if insurance helped covered birth control pills, money cost would decrease.

  6. Anonymous says:

    so how come birth control pills aren’t insured but Viagra is?

  7. Vernon Clayson says:

    You mention toothpaste so it’s fair to bring up the topic of dental care that is seldom mentioned. Unless a person is fortunate enough to have dental insurance the cost is prohibitive for both routine care and necessary care, Dentists apparently have a license to steal, need a filling, prepare to pay dearly. If there is a dentist in the Las Vegas area that won’t up you beyond the one filling you want and need I’d be very surprised, if you can get out of their office for less than $600.00 on a visit your are indeed a fortunate individual.

  8. I must be fortunate. I have no dental insurance and my dentist doesn’t charge me that.

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  9. Nikki says:

    So, tell me. Why should Viagra be covered by insurance then? And you would rather have even more women on Welfare give birth to kids they can’t afford to feed or clothe then have birth control available to them at no cost? On what planet does that make any sense? Exactly how is that saving us or the government money? And you know what? Maybe insurance SHOULD pay for toothpaste. And dental floss too. Preventative care will go a long way in the long run. Must be nice to be a man huh?

    Nice hat.

  10. No, insurance should no pay for Viagra. And not for tootpaste either. Insurance pools money for the purpose of sharing unforseeable risks, so a major disease doesn’t bankrupt someone. Pregnancy is a foreseeable risk and one easily and cheaply handled. If 99 percent of women have used birth control at some time, as the argument goes. It doesn’t like their is an urgent need to provide it everyone for free. It must the nice to be a liberal, huh?

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  11. nyp10025 says:

    I hadn’t seen Mr. Mitchell’s original contraception = toothpaste post, or I would have jumped in, since I care more about health care reform than anything else. But since the discussion has revived, I will join the scrum.
    1. Mr. Mitchell forthrightly states the core Republican position: Health insurance should only cover “unforseeable risks, so a major disease doesn’t bankrupt someone. Pregnancy is a forseeable risk and one easily and cheaply handled.” Ergo, no contraceptive coverage for you! But if pregnancy is a forseeable risk, why require insurance coverage for it at all? Young women (and their more responsible husbands/boyfriends) should be able to save in advance for pre-natal care. For that matter, routine pediatric illnesses are also forseeable risks. Why require insurance to cover those risks either? Come to think of it, there are tons of medical conditions that are resonably forseeable. It is reasonably forseeable that a pipe or cigar smoker will get emphasasyma. That someone who likes to go to the beach will get skin cancer. That a red meat eater will have blocked arteries.
    Why should health insurance be required to cover those conditions?
    2. One obvious response is that expecting people to either avoid all those hazards or be in a position to afford their treatment flies in the face of everything we have learned about human nature in the past 200 years.
    3. Mr. Mitchell may well complain that I am unfairly mixing in super expensive, albeit reasonably forseeable medical problems, such as heart attacks, with relatively cheap conditions, such as having a susceptibily to becoming pregnant (i.e., being a pre-menopausal woman.) But in reality, as a libertarian, he really does not believe the government should require health insurers to cover any particular medical condition at all. That is why he supports the superficially popular but actuarially disasterous idea of allowing consumers to purchase health insurance from unregulated out-of-state insurers. But, putting that argument aside, Mr. Mitchell ignores two important points. First, it is undeniably true that making it easier and cheaper for young women to obtain birth control pills and IUDs increases the use of those methods and, as a result, reduces the number of unplanned pregnancies. That is an enormous social good that, if nothing else, reduces the amount of money we later spend on prenatal and postnatal care, schools for the kids, help for the single moms, etc. Second, the pooling of buying power represented by health insurance significantly reduces medical costs compared to the cost of imposing those buying decsions on individuals. In other words, a health insurer is like Home Depot or Costco when it comes to purchasing medical goods and services. It uses its enormous bargaining power to obtain the lowest price from providers of those services, be they drug companies or hospitals. A young woman has no such bargaining power. That is why paying for important reproductive health services through the power of insurance plans makes such sense, even if the cost of birth control pills or IUDs seems cheaper to Mr. Mitchell than the cost of bypass surgery.
    4. Oh yes: the young woman who earns the minimum wage cleaning up at night in Mr. Mitchell’s old office may not consider the cost of burth control pills to be cheap at all.

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