- Mandated insurance coverage means that the government requires everyone who doesn’t use contraceptive pills to contribute to the costs of everyone who does. This is exactly equivalent to a tax on not using contraceptive pills.
- The burden of that tax falls on three groups: Men, infertile women, and fertile women who choose not to use contraceptive pills. We can consider separately the wisdom of each of these taxes.
- The tax on men is easily the most defensible. First, it’s non-distorting: There is (correct me if I’m wrong) currently no technology by which a man can convert himself into a fertile woman. So we don’t have to worry about the tax changing anyone’s behavior. Second, men, on average, earn more than women do, so if you believe in redistributive taxes at all, this is a great one. (We can have, someday, a separate discussion about the merits of redistributive taxes. But given that there’s a substantial constituency for those taxes, and given that we’re therefore going to have them, it seems far wiser to tax people for being male or white than for earning high incomes, since the redistribution goes for the most part in the right direction with essentially no disincentive effects.)
- The tax on infertile women is the second most defensible. Like the tax on men, it’s pretty much completely non-distorting. But unlike the tax on men, it does not fall primarily on a particularly high-income group so it’s quite hard to see why you’d want to bother with it.
- The tax on fertile women who choose not to use birth control pills is the least defensible. It’s both distorting and there’s no apparent reason to think that these women are substantially wealthier than those who are on the pill.
- This does ignore some of the arguments I considered in a previous post about the externalities of childbirth.
So on balance (unless you believe that point 6) is extremely significant) it seems like a far better policy, with many of the same effects, would be to tax men and redistribute the proceeds to women, independent of what sort of birth control they choose to employ. No?
In other words: Mandated contraceptive coverage is really three taxes rolled into one. One of those taxes makes far more sense than the others. So why not just keep that one and get rid of the other two?