This week Jonah Goldberg wrote a piece about the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. Big-hearted pundit that he is, Jonah conceded with a condescending chuckle that indeed, Birth Control is not any of an employer's business. But because it is none of his business, he went on to argue, the employer shouldn't have to pay for it. He used a Game of Thrones reference to illustrate his point, but I think he would have done better to consider the First Ferengi Rule of Acquisition.
Let me explain what I mean.
In his editorial, Jonah used the example of an employee who enjoyed going to conventions and cosplaying as characters from The Game of Thrones. Since he is doing this in his free time, what he does is none of his boss's business. But, Jonah goes on to insist, the employee should not expect his boss to pay for his cosplaying either.
Now, setting aside his insinuation that birth control is something frivolous and self-indulgent, ("I could't decide which would be more fun; getting a tattoo, or walking past a line of people calling me a baby-killer so that a doctor could stick a piece of metal up my hoo-hah"), Jonah is missing an important point. From a certain point of view, the boss IS paying for the guy's cosplay.
How do I figure that? Well, the guy is paying for his weekend celebrating the works of George R.R. Martin with money he earned from his job; money his employer gave him. So it's his employer's money he's using.
Does that strike you as a stupid argument? Yeah, it strikes me that way too. And yet that argument lies at the heart of Hobby Lobby's case.
Hobby Lobby was saying, and a majority of the Court agreed with them, that if their Company health insurance policy was required to cover birth control, then the Company's money would be used to pay for something the Company found morally objectionable.
As I understand it, and I'm sure my sister-in-law who works in the insurance business would roll her eyes if she read this, (little chance of that), Health Insurance works something like this. Your Employer sets up a policy with the Insurance Company which it pays for every month. You pay into the policy too, out of every paycheck; (so Hobby Lobby isn't just objecting to its own money going to pay for BC, it's objecting to your money going there too).
The Insurance Company puts all this money in a big money bin so that its CEO's can spend their lunch hours diving into it like a porpoise, burrowing into it like a gopher and tossing it up in the air and letting it hit them on the head. (What; isn't that how all CEO's spend their free time?) And why shouldn't they? After all, it's their money.
Let me repeat that: Once you give the Insurance Company your money, it's not your money anymore; it's theirs.
Now, under the terms of the policy, if you file a claim, they are legally obliged to pay it. So they dip a bucket into the money bin and scoop up enough to pay the claim.; but they are paying the claim with their money; not your boss's; not yours. (And they would frankly rather not pay it at all. That's where the First Ferengi Rule of Acquisition comes in: "Once you have their money, never give it back!" But if they didn't honor their policies, people would stop giving them money.)
If the money was yours, (or your employers) and the Insurance Company was only holding onto it and using what was yours to begin with to settle your claim, then they would only pay -- they could only pay -- what you had already put into the system. If you had only been employed at Company X and had only been on their Insurance Plan for a year when you are diagnosed, say, with cancer and have to go to the hospital, then the Insurance Company would only kick in a year's worth of payments.
(There are plans that work like that; special funds specifically to cover things like prescription meds, where you can calculate in advance how much you will need for a year and let the Insurance Co. hold on to that amount for you and dole it out as needed. Since the amount set aside is tax exempt, there is a small advantage to doing it that way; but such a plan would be useless to pay for an unexpected illness)
Or taking an opposite example, if you had worked for Company X for twenty years and paid into the company plan all that time without ever having a sick day or needing to file a claim, then you would have a right to request that the Insurance Company give you your unused money back.
What Hobby Lobby doesn't realize, (or more likely, doesn't care), is that unless their insurance provider has a policy of not covering those nasty forms of birth control, their money will go to paying for icky stuff anyway. Some other customer who has a policy through some other employer will file a claim, perhaps for something Hobby Lobby finds objectionable, and the payment for the claim will come out of the money bin holding all the money Hobby Lobby and all the other insurance customers have paid into it.
It's funny; one of the big complaints against the Affordable Care Act was that it put the Government in between doctors and their patients. Apparently putting Hobby Lobby between the Insurance Company and their employees is not as onerous.