|Priest to acolyte: "My mouth to your ear."|
In the first piece carried in the paper on the subject, an AP story in the Monday edition, Kasie Hunt and Steve Peoples write about a proposed "Obama administration mandate that employee health plans include free contraceptive coverage. While religious institutions are exempt, their affiliates, such as hospitals and universities, were at first included in the requirement. Under harsh criticism from conservatives, President Barack Obama later said the affiliates could opt out, but insurers must pay for the coverage.
The use of the word "free" and the phrase "insurers must pay" is a point of confusion, caused by editorial shorthand at the expense of clarity. Almost everyone subscribing to employer health coverage in this country will tell you that the coverage is never "free" by any stretch of the imagination. Insurers pay out on claims based on the premiums that the subscribers pay. The mandate will require the coverage at no additional cost to the subscriber. This is not the same as "free."
(We should not forget that contraceptive coverage saves both insurers and the subscribers cubic acres of money every day that would otherwise go for maternity and complication services. Reducing payouts is the religion of insurers, so let's not neglect their religious liberty here.)
Left out of the AP story was the point of contention that brought Ms Fluke onto the Limbaugh targeting radar -- neither she nor any other woman was allowed to testify in the Republican-led Congressional hearing about the insurance-mandate issue, and she complained publicly about this obvious insult to women.
In any case the AP story did outline the administration's compromise to effectively moot the religious-freedom angle, so, assuming that they read their own paper, the editors have a basis for understanding the facts.
Later on Monday Tim Wiederaenders added a column to his infrequent pseudo-blog, in which he characterized the controversy this way: "At issue is whether women working for employers affiliated with a religion should get free birth control under Obama's health care law." This clearly disinforms the reader, and he should know better. It's not like he was writing under any constraint on length.
We can take for granted his soft-pedaling Republican culpability in this and his lame attempt to claim that "no side is innocent" as essential to his unashamed political bias, though saying that Ms Fluke isn't innocent demonstrates the same blindness to the humanity of women that Limbaugh celebrates so profitably, and his Hail Mary play to blame the President for unspecified "gaffes" related to "other talk show hosts" must be pitied.
The administration long ago provided an out for religious employers who don't want to provide contraception coverage to their employees directly, and that is to source the coverage from the insurance companies separately, paid for by the employees. There is no requirement that they violate their religious principles. Rather, they are squawking because the administration will not allow them to prevent their employees from receiving contraception coverage. In other words, they are not demanding religious freedom for themselves, but rather religious bondage for their employees.
The Republican talking points invariably blur this picture to raise the emotional temperature and mischaracterize opposing views. The press and voters should reject this at every point. Let them compete on policy, but require that they work within the context of fact, not myth or lies.