On Benefits and Birth Control

There is a big argument going on now about the rules that would require all health insurance plans, even group plans for people who work for religious backed organizations, to cover the birth control pill at no cost. Some are framing this as a freedom of religion issue. They are wrong. There are three reasons why this is not about freedom of religion. There is the simple reason. There is the hypocrisy reason. And then there is the reason that I feel is being missed and is the main purpose of this blog post.

The simple reason is that health insurance covers many items that others may not agree with or use. The insurance that covers the male coworkers in my group covers birth control pills. They will never use that benefit. The insurance that covers female coworkers in my group covers Viagra. The women will never use that benefit. So the idea that a benefit is being offered does not mean it has to be used. And as many have said, Catholic women who choose to not use oral contraception are not forced to do so just because the plan offers it as an option. So nobody’s freedom of religion is being trampled on because everyone pays for items in their insurance plans that they will never use. The only time ones freedom to practice one’s religion would be trampled on would be forced consumption of oral contraceptives. That is not even an issue here. But many have dealt with this first reason, so lets move on.

The second reason is a bit of hypocrisy here. The compromise that allowed the healthcare bill to go through included a prohibition on these plans from covering induced abortions in cases other than rape, incest, or the life/health of the woman. So abortion in the case of rape is being covered in these plans yet we do not hear a peep out of the Catholic Church about them being forced to pay for those services as well. The Catholic Church does not consider rape a good enough of a reason to terminate a pregnancy. But they only complain about birth control pills. So there is some hypocrisy there. They are just picking and choosing their battles and I feel that is just a matter of politics. But this is also not the main reason I made this post.

The conversation we should be having here is about the nature of benefits as a whole and what does it mean when someone works for a company. When I was hired by my company, the human resources department did not just base the decision on if I could be hired by just my salary alone. There is a cost to employ someone that goes beyond the base salary of the employee. Let’s hypothetically say that for an employee making $50,000 a year the cost to employ would be $60,000. For simplicity’s sake we are going to drop all the other benefits that an employee might have and just deal with insurance. Let’s say a family plan costs $10,000 and that makes up the difference between the annual salary and the cost of employment.

The Catholic Church is arguing that it is paying for the cost of insurance. It is arguing that IT is paying $10,000 out of its own pocket to cover the insurance costs. But this is incorrect. It is the work that the employee contributes to the employer that purchases the benefit. The moment that an employer pays the employee a dollar in salary the employer loses all say in how that money can be spent. It now belongs to the employee. In this case, the woman employee has her pay and now has her say on how that money should be spent.

Now, consider insurance. Let’s say that instead of paying the employee a $50,000 wage and a $10,000 health insurance plan that the employer pays a $60,000 wage and contributes nothing to a group plan. However, the employee can pay the $10,000 towards that group plan and buy the same insurance. Because of the way that the tax code is set up, all $10,000 in premiums would come off the top as a pre-tax deduction. So the net result would be no difference. In this case we would all agree that the woman is paying the insurance with the work generated to create a salary of $60,000 and then buy $10,000 in insurance. So why isn’t it exactly the same thing if the woman is given $50,000 in salary and $10,000 as a benefit. The moment the benefit is paid it is hers, paid for by her work, and the church should have no say in what is provided in that benefit. It is her pay, and her say.

Now, I tried to explain this on twitter earlier and because of the character limit I could not adequately explain what i was meaning by my hash tag #herpayhersay. So to anyone who read my twitter posts earlier, this is what I meant when I said there was no difference between her pay paying for insurance and her insurance being directly funded by her labor and provided as a benefit. At the end of the day, she still has the same net salary. At the end of the day it was her labor that provided the entirety of the benefit package that is awarded to her. So at the end if the day it is not the churches money that is paying for any of the benefits provided in the pay package provided to her.

And because it is her pay, it should be her say as to what benefits she wants to take advantage of in that plan. #herpayhersay