the contraception mandate and path dependency

There’s much conversation about the so-called conscience issues with the contraception “mandate” under the new health care reform act. The Immanent Frame carries a useful set of statements by scholars on the topic. Kevin Schultz is of course correct that the whole matter is trumped up for election-year politics. Essentially they’ve carved out whole new territory for rights of “conscience”: a right to have one’s money “marked” such that it can’t be used for things one doesn’t believe in, even once that money is committed to nonreligious purposes. This idea validates one of Viviana Zelizer’s theses that the infinitely-fungible character of money fails to protect it from being invested with myriad meanings and distinctions.

The thing I haven’t heard mentioned is that the only reason this is an issue is because of the bizarre, path-dependency-created fact that most health insurance in the United States is purchased by employers. In the context of a national health care program, employers wouldn’t be in the business of purchasing their employees’ health care, so there would be no issue about “conscience.” There is no objection on the part of the Bishops to using public roads to allow people to drive to purchase contraceptives, nor public police and fire to protect the establishments that sell them.

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

One thought on “the contraception mandate and path dependency”

  1. I remember hearing an NPR story years ago about a conservative Christian group who had put together their own health insurance company to ensure that none of the users’ premiums went to any kind of service that they didn’t support (many of which are up for debate right now). I am sure that discourse over a national health care program would bring up the same concerns the bishops and others are raising now.

    I do understand the concerns of the self-insured and I sympathize with them. Of course, I tried to argue with a colleague that even though Notre Dame is self-insured they still use an insurance company as a broker. They give the money to the insurance company who doles it out for services – not unlike how they pay me my salary which I spend on whatever I wish, including things the bishops would not endorse.

    I love where I work. I signed on as a non-Catholic knowing full well that contraception would not be covered (although I did think I’d be able to use my FSA for it, which I can’t). That said, debates like this remind me that the Catholic church is not a united entity and that there are some factions that I just can’t rally behind – especially when they’re Foxified.


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