The hue and cry over the need to raise the federal debt ceiling has taken the spotlight off what the Obama administration has been doing as it moves to implement a very expensive new national healthcare law.
On Monday Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced that, as part of the implementation of new rules governing preventative care for women mandated by the new law that birth control would now be made available essentially free of charge—to the user anyway.
It's a decision that smacks of special interest politics. There are some parts of the new HHS mandate that make sense, from the medical perspective, like no cost screenings to guard against the onset of cervical cancer or diabetes during pregnancy. Making birth control free to the user is not a medical necessity in the same category, despite Sebelius' statement as reported by the Associated Press that "these historic guidelines are based on science and existing (medical) literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need."
Couching such decision in the language of doing what is in the best interests of women's "psychological, emotional and physical health"—as the chairman of the panel who made the recommendations the department is adopting did, makes it very hard to beat back, which is no doubt the reason it is being described in those terms.
One cannot help but wonder who benefits from a new rule like this. For women the benefit is arguably marginal. Birth control devices—for men and for women—are widely and readily available most anywhere in America as well as over the Internet, which sort of argues against it being a case of medical necessity.
Who does benefit? Well, the politicians behind the rule get brownie points with the so-called women's movement which seems to be able to reduce almost every political disagreement to a matter of women's health. It is also reasonable to expect that private groups like Planned Parenthood—which is currently losing a lot of its government funding—will find a way to benefit economically from the move considering the amount of birth control they make available each year.
Moreover, this is the kind of decision that will have a significant impact on societal mores and is yet another example of the danger posed by the confluence of healthcare policy and political prerogatives.
If the Obama administration were really serious about doing something to increase the quality and reduce the cost of preventative care made available to women in the United States they would reverse themselves on their dunderheaded policy that says frequent mammograms are not as necessary as was once thought. Ostensibly free birth control is not a serious healthcare proposal—just a political one.