Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wait, what was the question again?

Controversies involving Rush Limbaugh are as simple as they are boring: a guy who gets paid to say mean and offensive things says something mean and offensive, resulting in people being offended. These incidents are not worth the attention they receive, but 24-hour cable news being what it is, we all have to hear about it.

More interesting (to me, at least) is the line of reasoning used in his and other conservative's arguments.  For example, as Rachel Maddow ably explains, Limbaugh's statements suggest a profound ignorance about the workings of hormonal contraception.

Beyond the medical issue, there seems to be a lot of confusion about the policy question at hand.  Bill O'Reilly, while eschewing Limbaugh's vitriol, questions whether he personally, or society more broadly, should have to pay for people's sexual activities:

The question O'Reilly seems to be addressing is whether taxpayers should have to pay for birth control coverage. I think this is an interesting question and one that is worthy of debate. But it is simply not the question that is being addressed here. We are not discussing public provision of contraception, or any other healthcare, for that matter. The question here is whether private insurance companies should be required to cover hormonal contraception as part of their insurance packages. Thus, it is not a question of public spending, but rather one of regulation.

So if the concern is the cost of providing contraception, then this would reflect higher insurance premiums, not greater public spending. Does covering contraception increase insurance premiums? It doesn't seem like it. A review of published evidence by the Guttmacher Institute found that, "contraceptive coverage does not raise insurance premiums and that employers providing such coverage can, in fact, save money by avoiding costs associated with unintended pregnancy." Basically the cost of providing contraception is offset by the forgone cost of pre-natal care and delivery services. So Mr. O'Reilly's and Mr. Limbaugh's fears should be allayed.

With all the charged language and demagoguery, we seem to have lost sight of the topic. Instead, we have commentators denouncing non-existing policies and their imaginary consequences. Sure makes for good ratings, though.

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