Why Obama’s “Compromise” is a Shell Game: A simple Explanation


On the immediate announcement, it sounded as if President Obama has given Catholic and other concerned people of faith a nugget of goodwill (or, at the very least, a recognition that political damage control was needed).

It is entirely possible that many people will continue to see it that way. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Not only has nothing changed, but the reality of it is that this actually ends up being worse.

Allow me to provide an example or two:

Suppose you donate to the United Way, and you designate your gift to a particular cause or two. While it may appease your sensibilities that you are designating your gift, the reality of it is that the only way this matters is if the vast majority of other donors also designate their gifts. Since most do not, all that happens is that the United Way reallocates all the other fungible donations and the final allocations are exactly the same as if you had not designated your gift at all. Now, if there are no morally offensive programs being supported, you may be OK with that. But if there are morally offensive programs, then you are, in fact, contributing to them in an indirect way. You can appease your conscience by telling yourself that “if everyone else had done what I did, there would be no problem.” But reality being what it is, that is not the case. So, all that happens is that a higher percentage of non-allocated funds are provided for undesignated programs, while a smaller percentage of other peoples’ funds are used to support the programs you designated money to. This is colloquially referred to as a “shell game.”

Why am I talking about this example? It simply provides an illustration of how something can be presented as one thing, but in reality it is something else. In this example, the contributor is made to feel good about giving to a specific group that is meaningful to them, but everyone knows that in the end it really doesn’t affect overall funding by program.

So, let’s explain the new “compromise” in the mandatory contraception debate. Prior to today, certain faith-based groups were told they would have to offer health care coverage that covered the expense of birth control (some of the abortifacient variety). The religious freedom aspect of this aside, there is a cost related to this direct coverage. Let’s just suppose the cost for some employer would be $20,000. This $20,000 hits the health care losses of the insurance company, and the rates for the program are adjusted to reflect this cost. The employer now has a plan that costs more for which they are directly covering something they are morally opposed to.

The compromise presented today is this: Employers, you can opt out. Instead, we’ll make the insurance company cover this at no cost to your employees. Thus, the thinking goes, it is not directly covered by the employer. Unfortunately, this compromise is no compromise at all, and is potentially even more harmful.

1) There is still a direct linkage to the employer’s health care coverage. In other words, if the employer opts out of health coverage, they will get fined as before. If they opt in, there is automatic coverage for birth control services. Regardless of whether or not it’s directly under that plan, or dubbed as a “service” of insurance companies, it is exactly the same thing in practice.
2) The cost doesn’t go away. The coverage is only “free” to the employee (notwithstanding increased premiums) but there is still a cost of coverage. The $20,000 does not stay with the losses of the employer, but get shifted to the expense line of the insurance company. Expenses are built into the rates for coverage, so the employer ultimately pays for the coverage.
3) Now, suppose the insurance company doesn’t load expenses for birth control utilization directly back to the employer’s health plan, but just loads it in equally across employers. The impact of this is concerning: supposing a Catholic ministry with faithful adherents to the Church’s teachings as employees, and supposing they do not use birth control at all, then their health plan costs will actually increase to accommodate the costs of contraceptive utilization of other plans. Thus, this new compromise actually leads to a situation where not only are faith based organizations paying for contraceptive use, but the more faithful the employees are to Church teachings, the more they subsidize the use of contraception in other employee bases!

This needs to be opposed just as ardently as the previous proposal. We can’t petend that everything’s going away just because the administration found a way to better disguise it.

4 responses »

    • This is a silly comparison. Women are not banned, as far as I know, from visiting Planned Parenthood. They are not banned from going to Wal-Mart, nor from visiting a Doctor. Just as you and I have rights to purchase other goods women (and men) have a right to purchase contraception. It’s simply false to assert those rights are stripped away just because an employer health plan chooses to to cover the cost.

      The use of women’s health with respect to unbridled sexual activity as an excuse to strip away First Amendment freedoms is so transparent as to be insulting.

      • Oh, that’s so funny you mention that women can go to Planned Parenthood to get contraception, EXCEPT for the fact that conservatives are trying to shut them down too. And you think it’s fair that women should have to pay full price for their contraception, but men can get their VIAGRA paid for?

        You really hit the nail on the head when you mentioned “women’s unbridled sexual activity” because that’s really what this is about. Conservatives are trying to keep women barefoot and pregnant and subjected to their husbands, “like in the good ol’ days”. As for the other women who actually want to control the number of kids they have and participate in the work force, well they’ll just have to pay for it. And if they can’t afford it, then those sluts should just keep their legs shut.

        What a world you’d like to live in…

  1. I see a lot of red herrings and straw men to the actual issue. Clearly, we’re at odds on the social debate, and that will unlikely change. But that is not the issue here.

    Everyone, including social liberals who see no issue with contraception, and even see a benefit to it, should be uneasy about a President believing he has the authority to (1) demand that any entity – insurer or religious employer (or any employer, for that matter) MUST provide any product to employees. This should be opposed by all, because as much as you like this particular decision, you are thinking way too narrowly. It sets a precedent for any President demanding nearly anything. The day a very conservative President imposes his will in such a matter, you will be the first to cry foul, but you will have Obama to think for the precedent; (2) tell a religious institution, ministry, charity, service, or even individual employer that their conscience rights are subject to the state. This is the very definition of fascism. There’s always a “positive” reason for these impositions. This time it’s guised as “women’s health.” There is a First Amendment for a reason. To date there is no health-care related Amendments to the Constitution. We can certainly delineate these rights if we choose to as a country. But until then, when asking the question as to why the Catholic church’s rights are more important than access to contraception, the simplest answer is because the Constitution says so. And I have yet to hear anyone with even a basic understanding of Constitutional Law actually think this will hold up when challenged in the courts.

    Most of your comment is simply rhetoric that is so simply stereotypical of religious conservatives that it isn’t worth the argument, so I won’t bother with it. But it’s a non-argument to the actual issue.

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