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If only Rush had said…

Click here [1] to listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM 600, Friday, March 5, 2012.

Rush Limbaugh made a tactical mistake. A big one.

If you are not familiar with the story, last week on his radio program heard on KTBB and on about 600 other radio stations in the U.S., Rush talked about a woman at Georgetown University named Sandra Fluke. Ms. Fluke is a third-year law student and she was invited by Democrats to testify before a congressional committee on the subject of requiring under federal law that employers, including religious organizations, provide contraceptives under their health plans at no out-of-pocket cost to the employee.

Ms. Fluke said that in the three years she has been at Georgetown, contraception has cost her approximately $3,000. She went on to say that such cost is a burden she finds unbearable.

Rush pointed out that a thousand dollars is a much greater sum than adequate contraception should cost in a single year. He went on to riff on the idea that if contraception is truly costing Ms. Fluke so much money, she must be having so much sex as to be a “round heels,” a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

It was in those characterizations that Rush committed an egregious and totally unforced error. He took a young woman who is by all appearances either naïve at best or a whining, spoiled and entitled student at an elite university at worst, and turned her into a celebrated victim of right wing hatred and misogyny.

Rush, by his ham-handedness, turned the event of Ms. Fluke’s testimony before Congress into a wasted opportunity to expose the folly of limitless entitlement.

So Rush, here’s what I say and what you should have said.

I reject not only the premise that health plans should be required by law to cover contraception, I reject the premise that health plans should be required by law to do anything at all. A health plan has historically been and should continue to be a part or not a part of the relationship between employer and employee upon agreement freely reached between the parties.

The very fact that some third party, be it an employer provided health plan or a government program such as Medicare, actually issues the payment for the vast majority of health services in the United States is a huge reason that costs for such services are going up at many multiples of the rate of inflation.

The price sensitivity that consumers display when buying everything from food to gasoline to flat screen TVs is absent in the majority of health care transactions. Costs have predictably exploded. (See an earlier post on this point here [2].)

Mandating coverage by federal law for services down to those that are within the financial grasp of virtually anyone earning any income at all (read: birth control pills) will only make the problem worse.

What you should have said, Rush, rather than calling Ms. Fluke a slut, is that the very idea of an employer health plan was the product of another market distortion created by the federal government. Wage and price controls that were put in place during World War II forced employers competing for talent to devise an alternative to wages as a means of compensation. Thus was born the employer-paid health plan.

As health plans have expanded and as the government’s role has expanded to the point of today paying more than half of all health service costs in the country, the prices for those services have escalated beyond the capacity for even middle class consumers to pay.

Thus, many believe that the only answer is a full-blown takeover of the industry by the government, as in Great Britain – even as Great Britain is coming to realize that its National Health Service is unaffordable even under the most optimistic economic conditions.

Lastly, Rush, rather than tastelessly assail  Ms. Fluke’s character, you should have asked her this.

“Ms. Fluke, if you are unwilling to assume the responsibility for even a very nominal cost attendant to the care of your own body, even if as you say the contraceptives you seek are for the treatment of a medical condition rather than for the purpose of consequence-free sex, then for what are you willing to accept responsibility?

“To the extent that we do for you, Ms. Fluke, you will not do for yourself. And it is the millions upon millions upon millions of discreet, individual instances of free people doing for themselves that made the United States the wealthiest, freest and most successful country in all of history.

“To the extent that you provide for yourself, Ms. Fluke, rather than demand that Congress pass a law requiring that the country provide for you, you will be freer, happier and very likely healthier.”

That’s what Rush should have said.

As the owner of a radio station that carries his program, I devoutly wish today that he had.