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How We're All Paying for Rush Limbaugh to Take Viagra (And Why it Costs a Lot More Than Contraception)

No taxpayer money may ever cover the costs of a woman's contraception. But it may pay for Rush's Viagra.

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When conservative blowhards rant, you know they have something on their minds and it’s almost always themselves. So the people who yell loudest about  class warfare have waged it successfully on behalf of the 1 percent. And the conservatives complaining about death panels did not object to the real ones in states like Arizona that denied Medicaid benefits to patients who died because of the transplants they could not get as a result. Similarly, you then hear Rush Limbaugh objecting that a mandate that university health plans cover contraception would mean taxpayers paying people to have sex, it can only mean that he is describing himself. And he may very well be. Let me explain.

First, Rush’s comment. As anyone who had listened to the media over the last week should know by now, the conservative radio commentator insulted Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke when she tried to testify before Congress. Fluke’s testimony maintained that contraceptive coverage was important to women because, without coverage, it could cost as much as $3,000 over the course of university enrollment and some women needed the birth control pill to control medical conditions such as ovarian cysts. Fluke told the sad story of a classmate who could not afford the pill and faces early menopause in her 20s as a result. Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” and insisted that she “wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex” and he later added “as many times and as often as they want, with as many partners as they want.”

The Obama administration, however, mandated that private plans cover contraception because doing so will save money, unlike coverage of Rush’s Viagra, which does cost the taxpayers money if he bought it through an employer-provided plan. Limbaugh made the news pages sometime ago when he was stopped with a bottle of Viagra as he was returning from the Dominican Republic, with four men to whom he was not married. He was detained because the Viagra was issued pursuant to a prescription in his doctor’s name, but once he signed an affidavit that it was in fact for his personal use, the matter was dropped.

Now, I don’t begrudge Rush his Viagra, if he has a problem with erectile dysfunction (though I certainly to do not favor posting his activities on YouTube). It would be nice, however, if Rush were to admit the taxpayer role in paying for his pills. Our existing healthcare today is a massive subsidy from the uninsured to the insured. The U.S. does not have a state-sponsored healthcare system partly because of a historical accident. The earliest forms of health insurance were modestly sized, physician-sponsored Blues programs. But it took U. S. government-imposed price controls during World War II to really grow the concept.

In the 1940s, private employers started to offer healthcare benefits to compete for new employees during a tight labor market. Employers deducted the cost of the programs as a business expense, but employees did not have to report the benefits as income on their tax returns. The result is a huge tax subsidy for healthcare benefits. The more money an employee makes – and the higher the marginal tax rate on the employee’s income – the more the employee might prefer additional income in the form of an untaxed medical benefit. So the best employer-provided healthcare plans, the so-called “Cadillac plans,” often go to the most highly compensated employees. CEOs love them. Mitt Romney as head of Bain Capital, highly sought-after commentators like Limbaugh, and some of the most generous union plans tend to have the most extensive coverage. While the Affordable Health Care Act proposes higher taxes on these plans, the changes won’t take place for years. And, in the meantime, the more extensive the employer-provided plan and the higher the marginal tax rate of the recipient, the greater is the effective taxpayer subsidy.

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