published Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Washington can't create 'free' benefits

Some advisers to the federal government are telling Washington that it should force health insurers to provide contraception at no cost to policyholders.

Or, in the words of The Associated Press, "Millions of women stand to gain free access to a broad menu of birth control methods ... ."

Of course, even a basic understanding of the laws of economics shows those benefits won't actually be "free."

No benefit from an insurer, or government, can really be free, because it costs something to produce and deliver that benefit.

"Free access" to benefits for one person only means that someone else -- perhaps someone who will not make use of those benefits -- is paying for them.

And so once again, the federal government is not controlling medical insurance costs. It is simply lifting costs off one group of people and imposing them on another group, possibly in the form of higher premiums or deductibles.

It would be far more sensible -- not to mention more constitutional -- to let insurance companies and policyholders work out the terms of coverage according to free-market choice and competition. There should be neither undue government support for, nor mandates against, insurers.

But these days, government manipulation of the economy is held in high regard in Washington, and respect for the free-market principles that made our country great is in extremely short supply.

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