From a Wall Street Journal editorial this morning on health care: "At the very least, liberals will demand to load up co-ops with the minimum-coverage mandates they've already included in the House and rival Senate legislation—from maternity care to government-funded abortion." One can understand why conservatives may be uncomfortable with requiring government-funded abortion, or, for that matter, with requiring insurance plans to cover Viagra or chiropracty, but the fight for the idea that health insurance should not cover maternity care seems like a political loser. Not to mention that it somewhat contradicts the pro-family view implied by the opposition to government-funded abortion.
One can understand the economic arguments: the more services and benefits that are mandated by the government, the more expensive insurance premiums become, and the more people go uninsured. One can argue that having a baby isn't a catastrophic illness to be insured against but a relatively inexpensive procedure that can be paid for out-of-pocket rather than through insurance. Not covering maternity care might drive more people to consider more inexpensive midwives and home births rather than more expensive hospital-based births supervised by highly trained and highly paid obstetricians. That would help drive down health care costs. There is an argument that these choices should be left to individual market choice rather than government mandates. And there is an argument that those having children should bear the associated costs themselves rather than spreading them across an insurance risk pool that includes people who do not have children, or those who choose to have fewer children. (One could make the same argument when it comes to funding public schools.)
But as a practical political matter, the idea that congressional Republicans should stand up and fight against requiring insurers to cover the costs of labor and delivery and associated hospitalization just seems out of touch, akin to the claim I heard Steve Forbes make over dinner the other night that "medical tourism" was an example of a free-market health care success. Sure, it's great that you can go to India or Singapore for a lower-priced surgery if you want to, but to tell Americans that if grandma has a heart attack she is going to have to fly across the world to get a cheaper operation in a country where she will be separated from her friends and family who would visit her if she had the operation in a local American hospital just does not seem like a political winner. The best political argument for free-market health care is that it leads to higher quality through innovation and incentives. That allows the free-market forces to be the ones giving consumers (and voters) a benefit, a cure, a treatment they are satisfied with, rather than depriving them of something, such as maternity care or a stay in a local hopsital rather than an overseas one, that they want.