LA Gov. Bobby Jindal: Get Government Out of Birth Control

//], via Wikimedia Commons

In an excellent piece urging that oral contraception become available over the counter that ran in this morning’s print edition of the Wall Street Journal (subscription may be required), Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whose résumé includes a litany of health policy wonkery, sounded the death knell of both big government’s dominion over one aspect of reproductive health, and the pharmaceutical industry’s influence over that policy. Further, Jindal’s position masterfully bridges the gap between social conservatives and libertarians, as it accounts for both market-based health care (vs. Obamacare) and the protection of religious liberty and conscience (also vs. Obamacare). Here’s an excerpt:

As an unapologetic pro-life Republican, I also believe that every adult (18 years old and over) who wants contraception should be able to purchase it. But anyone who has a religious objection to contraception should not be forced by government health-care edicts to purchase it for others … Let’s ask the question: Why do women have to go see a doctor before they buy birth control? There are two answers. First, because big government says they should, even though requiring a doctor visit to get a drug that research shows is safe helps drive up health-care costs. Second, because big pharmaceutical companies benefit from it. They know that prices would be driven down if the companies had to compete in the marketplace once their contraceptives were sold over the counter.

Mandating that a patient see a doctor to obtain a prescription artificially inflates demand for prescription-writing, which makes that visit more expensive to consumers in the long run. Obamacare, of course, has made it more difficult for people who take charge of their own care with high-deductible plans and HSAs to purchase OTC items without a prescription. Requiring a prescription for OTC medications, including medications like oral contraception that Jindal argues should be available OTC, also takes up valuable time that doctors could be spending treating other patients with more serious conditions. The American health care system bears that opportunity cost in the form of astronomical prices (and yet the president’s defenders somehow continue to claim that the euphemistically-titled Affordable Care Act will somehow rein in costs).

Large companies, too, will frequently exert pressure on the legislative process through lobbying to get these kinds of regulatory restrictions placed on their market; it drives prices upward. But in addition to artificially-inflated prices, patients receive a reduced quality of care when treatments aren’t subject to market forces of competition. Cato Institute director of health policy studies Michael Cannon and senior fellow Michael Tanner wrote in their 2007 book Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It:

When these conditions of a competitive market are met, individual choice actually promotes lower prices and higher quality…. Unfortunately, when it comes to health care, government has long behaved as if it knows all the answers. Through laws and regulations, it has claimed that it knows the best way to provide medical care for workers in their retirement. It has picked one form of private health insurance that should be favored before all others. It claims that it knows the only way to protect the public from unsafe medical technologies, and that it knows the best way to finance medical care for the needy.

And government also says, at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, that it knows the best way to safeguard your sexual health — by requiring women to obtain a prescription for oral contraception. Knowing Messrs. Cannon and Tanner as I do, they would likely half-applaud Jindal’s editorial, and half-wonder why he didn’t call for a total dismantling of the FDA, the place where the pharmaceutical industry focuses the lion’s share of its lobbying efforts in an attempt to use the power of law to squelch competition. Be sure to follow the Cato@Liberty blog today for their reactions to Jindal.

Aside from the economics of pharmaceutical drugs, though, Jindal made an important step in his piece that libertarians should also applaud: he called for a policy that upholds religious liberty as a matter of law — and the dignity of the pro-life position as a matter of culture — without foisting his self-described pro-life views on the country at large. This is a refreshing breath of fresh air for libertarians, and could signal a change in what the Republican Party considers to be important platform priorities in the years to come. Many pundits whispered the name “Jindal” in their 2012 election prognostications a few years ago, and the Governor from Louisiana has spent time in recent days and weeks laying out his vision for the future of the GOP. Is this the precursor to a 2016 run at the White House? Probably so, and libertarians should also take note of Jindal’s A and B scores on Cato’s biennial Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors in 2010 and 2012, respectively. (Jindal dropped a letter grade over two years for incentive-based tax policies — special carve-outs for corporations — including Hollywood tax credits … which could easily be solved by adopting the Glenn Reynolds Plan™.)

For kicks, I rewrote Jindal’s third paragraph in my head thus:

As an unapologetic anti-drug addiction Republican, I also believe that every adult (18 years old and over) who wants marijuana should be able to purchase it. But no one who has a moral objection to drug use should use force of government’s criminal edicts to ban it for others. And parents who believe, as I do, that their teenage children shouldn’t be involved with drug use at all do not deserve ridicule.

This line of reasoning could be applied to call for an end to a number of government programs that aren’t legitimate functions of the state.

One final passage from Jindal’s editorial that stands out:

It’s time to put purchasing power back in the hands of consumers—not employers, not pharmaceutical companies, and not bureaucrats in Washington. The great thing about America is that power doesn’t come from government, but from people. It’s time to reclaim that power. It’s time to stop government from dividing people or insulting deeply held religious beliefs, and return the country to the path that has always made it great—one where Americans respect and value their fellow citizens, no matter their creed.

This is significant for libertarians, too, as respect and dignity for the individual lies at the core of our political philosophy; it’s the wellspring from which all of our policy preferences emanate. I hope the rest of the Republican Party pays attention, particularly if they want libertarian votes in 2014, 2016, and beyond.


Michael Cannon’s commentary was much shorter than I expected.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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