When an ideologically diverse roomful of economists, upon hearing the announcement of a new presidential policy, bursts into unanimous laughter, you can be pretty sure the president is trying to pull a fast one.
A couple of days ago, I happened to arrive a little late for our department’s regular Friday 10AM bagel hour, where a heated discussion of the original contraception-for-all policy was in full swing. I was able to report that I’d just heard on the radio that the president was “backing off” by transferring the mandate from employers to insurers. Hilarity ensued.
That’s because all economists (and I hope everyone who’s successfully completed a Principles course) understands that transferring the responsibility from employers to insurers amounts to transferring the cost from insurance buyers to insurance buyers, which is to say that it’s not a change in policy. One of the first and most important lessons we teach our students is well summarized by a slogan: “The economic burden of a tax is independent of the legal burden”. Ditto for a mandated insurance purchase. It is not the law, but the underlying price-sensitivities of buyers and sellers, that determines where the burden ultimately falls.
Your president knows this. He’s banking that you don’t.
Edited to add: I see that Greg Mankiw beat me to this. Others must have as well.