In a letter sent on March 30, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and 12 other Republican attorney generals asked the White House to exempt private employers who object on religious grounds from an Obamacare rule that mandates free contraceptive coverage in all health plans. But providing a regulatory exemption on religious grounds wouldn’t just weaken good socioeconomic policy; it would also undermine long-established, sensible rules about commerce and the government’s role in the economy.
For DeWine and other Republicans, the rule has become a political talking point against Obamacare, the sweeping health care reform law passed in 2010. They argue that forcing religious institutions and employers, particularly Catholics, to provide such coverage infringes on their religious right to oppose the use of condoms, the pill and, of course, Plan B.
But providing free birth control coverage gives women, particularly those on the lower rungs of the income scale, options they otherwise could not afford. In a 2011 testimony to the Institute of Medicine, the Guttmacher Institute cited a study that found low- and middle-income women were having trouble paying for birth control in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and that some of these women — about one in four pill users — “saved money through inconsistent use.”
The mandate is also one of the many parts of Obamacare that saves the taxpayer and employers money by helping women avoid costly pregnancies. A 2000 study from the National Business Group on Health found not providing contraceptive coverage costs employers 15 to 17 percent more than providing coverage.
A 2012 study from the Brookings Center on Children and Families concurred.
When looking at three ways to prevent unintended pregnancies, the Brookings Center found the most cost-effective policy was to increase funding for family planning services through the Medicaid program. In other words, if the federal government increased spending on birth control programs, it would eventually save money.
And — listen here, social conservatives — the policy would reduce abortion rates. Researcher Adam Thomas explained the socioeconomic benefits in the study’s conclusion: “The research reviewed in this brief shows that evidence-based pregnancy prevention interventions are public policy trifectas: They generate taxpayer savings, they improve the lives of children and families and they reduce the incidence of abortion.”
Still, there is a broader philosophical argument behind DeWine’s letter. No one will deny that the U.S. Constitution clearly prevents the federal government from dictating religious principles, but the question is whether that’s really the issue.
When a religious institution or employer hires workers for non-religious services, it is voluntarily inserting itself into the economy, which is supposedly outside of the religious realm and can be regulated by all levels of government. There is no secrecy or subtlety in this relationship: The U.S. Constitution allows the federal government to regulate commerce, and religious institutions and employers decide to engage in commerce with full knowledge of potential regulations.
By arguing that religious institutions and employers should be exempted from providing free birth control coverage, DeWine is not merely arguing for one exemption; he is saying religious institutions and employers should get special economic treatment from the government because they are religious. That is the direct opposite of separation of church and state.
Supporting this kind of special treatment seems particularly strange for conservatives. They’re the ones who attacked the federal government for giving special treatment to big banks during bailout talks. They’re the ones who criticize clean energy loans and incentives for favoring certain industries. Why are religious institutions left out of this line of criticism?
Other News and Stuff
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, compared Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan. Multiple reports from environmental groups found the standards create jobs and bring clean energy to the state.
State legislators are poised to scrap Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to expand Medicaid, which would use mostly federal funds to insure Ohioans at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. A Health Policy Institute of Ohio report found the expansion would save the state money and provide insurance to about 456,000 Ohioans by 2022.
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