The Baby Subsidy
Since Nadya Suleman gave birth last month to octuplets, there has been a lot of attention to how the cost of birthing the babies and caring for them (along with the six children Suleman already had) falls to taxpayers. It’s unfair, commentators say, for the public to subsidize Suleman’s family. Perhaps. But let’s widen the lens a bit. Many babies are subsidized by other people. Workers with health insurance take for granted that their insurance plans will pick up the costs of the medical care required during pregnancy and delivery. Yet it isn’t obvious that insurance should cover pregnancy. Pregnancy isn’t an illness. The costs associated with pregnancy are more like those associated with an elective procedure. Insurance doesn’t typically pay for elective procedures (tummy tucks, LASIK, hair transplants, and so on) because there isn’t anything to insure against. From the perspective of somebody in the insurance pool who elects not to have babies, coverage for pregnancy isn’t far from the taxpayer’s coverage of Suleman’s bills. Paid parenting leave and other employee benefits further subsidize babies; employees who do not have children cannot normally ask for a Caribbean cruise instead. Perhaps the lesson is: people in subsidized houses shouldn’t cast stones.