Monday, January 23, 2012

Government Healthcare Interferes in Private Lives

Many are outraged at the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) recent decision to force religiously-affiliated organizations to provide reproductive and preventative services without co-pay or deductible, as required under the new Obamacare law. HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius announced that while synagogues and churches would be exempt from the rule, other religiously-affiliated organizations, including non-profits would not be. Religiously-affiliated organizations, however, were provided an extra year to prepare for implementation.

This decision has highlighted the excessive overreach of Obamacare into the private sector. The law is facilitating gross interference in the private lives of individuals beyond what is appropriate for government involvement. It not only gives the government an undue amount of arbitrary coercive power, but greatly impedes the ability of the individual (person and organization) to choose their own way of life and even make their own mistakes.

Many religious leaders have spoken out quickly and decisively on the ruling, arguing that it forces them to provide for services, such as the morning-after pill, that challenge their personal and religious beliefs. The archbishop of New York, Timothy M. Dolan said "In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences...."

This is not a commentary on the wisdom of providing or not providing contraception. The issue at stake here is not whether these religious groups and leaders are right about the provision of these servicesif one can even make the claim that there is a "right." Instead, it is about whether individuals and private organizations should have the right to choose the services they provide to their employees and the manner in which they conduct their operations.

Private bodies should not be forced, by the government, to behave in certain ways because some, who happen to be in power, believe that one way or another is a better way to conduct one's live. The wielding of such power by the government moves far beyond the pale of the proper role of government and descends towards a dangerous tyranny. While the government certainly has to make laws and use coercive power to alter the individual's behavior in some instances, there is a wide gap between, for instance, preventing murder or theft, which essentially protects one citizen from another, and forcing citizens to provide services or goods to others when the provider (and possibly the recipient) objects and the recipient can obtain these services elsewhere if they so desire.

By allowing the government to inflict such arbitrary and minute decisions on the lives of private organizations, Obamacare has ventured too far into the realm of totalitarian control. The rule has offered no clear delimitation of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate intervention in the private sector, relying upon a perspective of government that essentially allows any meddling if some policymaker believes the outcome would be "better." An argument that science or policy deems such practices better (even if true) is not sufficient to warrant government control.

The proposed alternative, exemptions, as provided to houses of worship, are not a fair or appropriate remedy. Everyone must be treated the same under the law. Allowing some to avoid following a law because of personal reasons relies upon the same arbitrariness that should not be present in legislating and government rule-making. Why, one must readily ask, should religious objections be acknowledged but not other personal or economic ones?

The truth is that the government has no business in deciding what employers should provide in terms of healthcare and reproductive services. There is certainly a worthy debate to have over merits of providing birth control—a debate that would most likely be lively and impassioned. But it is a debate that should happen in the social sphere not in the government. It is a debate that will ebb and flow as social values and mores change, as people, for instance, choose to associate and work for organizations that provide or refuse to provide benefits that coincide with their personal beliefs. But it is not just for coercion to be used to force some to adhere to the beliefs of others.

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