Angels Are Now Waltzing on the Edge of a Healthcare Plan

| Fri Feb. 10, 2012 2:11 PM EST

Well, we now have the details of the "accommodation" that President Obama has made over the contraception issue. Institutions affiliated with the Catholic church will be able to opt out of contraceptive coverage completely, so the bishops are said to be completely satisfied. The LA Times explains the rest:

The change essentially shifts the responsibility for providing and discussing contraception from the religious employer to the insurers. Any employer who has a religious objections to providing contraception will not have to provide that service to employees, but in those cases the insurer will be required to reach out directly to the employee and offer contraceptive care free of charge.

I've been laughing about this over email with a friend, who writes:

Further according to them, "Policy experts within the administration believe that there is effectively no cost to providing contraception, because use of it prevents much more expensive care they would otherwise have to provide."

Catholic bishops are reportedly thrilled. Insurance companies not heard from yet.

You think these things don't turn on the number of angels on the head of a pin? Apparently, they really do.

Not clear to me why they think there's "effectively no cost" and the insurance companies won't object, since if that were the case, they would have been offering this from the beginning of time.

If this gets everyone to sing Kumbaya, who am I to object? But really, this is just idiocy. If insurance companies are required to provide contraceptive coverage "free of charge," they will, of course, simply raise rates elsewhere to cover all these "free" contraceptives. And Catholic hospitals and universities will all pay these slightly higher rates, which means they're paying exactly as much for contraceptive coverage indirectly as they would be if their healthcare plans covered it directly — just as Catholic bishops who pay income taxes already pay indirectly for contraceptive care subsidized by tax dollars. (Which they do. That's life in a pluralistic democracy. We all pay for stuff we disapprove of.)

Still, I guess this accommodation means the bishops can convince themselves their money isn't going toward paying for the evils of contraception. Kumbaya!

POSTSCRIPT: I just want to add that it's possible that this is a cunningly brilliant move. Obama gets to show — again! — that he's always willing to meet his critics halfway, and if the insurance companies play along with the "free of charge" charade then the critics really don't have a leg left to stand on. If they continue to object, then they're exposed as simply opposed to birth control, not merely standing up for religious liberty.

On a broader note, I don't think there's a single person in the world who has a consistent opinion on the fungibility of money. And you know what? As silly as that is from a purely technical point of view, it's probably not a bad thing. We all need ways to fool ourselves into making compromises we otherwise wouldn't make, and in the grand scheme of things, inconsistency over the fungibility of money is a small price to pay for a better lubricated society.

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