The Blog

‘No Precedent for the Government Ordering Private Companies to Offer a Product for Free’

9:56 AM, Feb 12, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Saturday's lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal discusses the White House's “accommodation” concerning its decree that all new private insurance plans must cover birth control pills, morning-after pills, and the abortion drug ella—and must cover them free of charge. The Journal writes, “Under the new rule, which the White House stresses is an 'accommodation' and not a compromise, nonprofit religious organizations won't have to directly cover birth control and can opt out.  But the insurers they hire to cover their employees can't opt out. If that sounds like a distinction without a difference, odds are you're a rational person.”

Barack Obama

The Journal writes that if, say, Notre Dame doesn't choose to include such (free) coverage in the health plans it offers to its employees, “Notre Dame's insurer will . . . be required to offer the benefit as an add-on rider anyway, at no out-of-pocket cost to [the employee], or to any other worker, or in higher premiums for the larger group.” The Journal notes, “The reality, as with all mandated benefits, is that these costs will be borne eventually via higher premiums.  The balloon may be squeezed differently over time, but eventually prices will find an equilibrium.  Notre Dame will still pay for birth control, even if it is nominally carried by a third-party corporation.”

However, as the piece highlights, there are even bigger problems here. The Journal writes, “There is simply no precedent for the government ordering private companies to offer a product for free, even if they do recoup the costs indirectly.”

In other words, even if the Obama administration’s fictional account of the economics involved would actually play out as the administration suggests—even if prices didn't really get passed along to everyone else but were instead simply covered by the insurer as a sort of philanthropic nod to the Obama administration—what would give the federal government the authority to order private companies to offer a product for free? Could such a mandate really be justified under Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce? Is there really no difference between regulating commerce and mandating that an item of commerce be free?

Moreover, of all the products or services that companies could feasibly be required to provide for free under such an extraordinary conception of federal power, why birth control and abortifacients? Why not bread, or books, or actual medical care for actual diseases?

This issue goes well beyond the issue of religious freedom, and it highlights the unprecedented threats to limited government and liberty that Obamacare poses to all Americans, from the most devout Catholic to the most committed atheist. Americans are faced with two choices: politicized medicine and an unprecedented consolidation of power and control in Washington, or repeal.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers