Imagine that you worked for somebody whose religion forbids drinking alcohol. Now, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t get a beer. The way it would work is that your boss would tell the bank where your checks are deposited that she’s anti-beer. You’d get your salary minus the amount you spend on beer, and then when you buy beer, you’d have to tell the store or bar to bill your bank. Then the bank would keep track of how much they’d spent on paying for your beer, and submit that information to the government to be reimbursed.

Imagine that around half the country supported this system — or thought even this Rube Goldberg arrangement wasn’t good enough, and still amounted to your employer being forced to buy you beer — and said if you didn’t want your boss deciding how you could spend your pay, you should just find a different job. You know, in an economy where unemployment has been above 7.5% for almost five years.

Sound reasonable? No? Well, that’s basically the situation that now exists with another form of employee compensation: the employee’s health insurance policy.

If it would be ridiculous for beer, why is it OK for family planning?

[I’d bookmarked the HHS announcement but hadn’t started drafting this post yet when two stories came out about workers who are forced to get their pay in the form of prepaid debit cards and get screwed by the cards’ high fees. A friend of mine pointed out that soon, it could become technologically feasible for companies to pay their employees with debit cards that can’t be used to buy certain things. And won’t that be a paradise of religious freedom?]