The four best lies about the new health care law.

How to fix health policy.
March 31 2010 6:38 PM

Health-Reform Bubbemeises

The four best lies about the new health care law.

Click here for a guide to following the health care reform story online.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

The new health care reform law is, among other things, a powerful magnet for misinformation. Veteran folklorist Betsy McCaughey got the game started last year with her false allegation that Obamacare would lead to creation of death panels. But even McCaughey might be stunned by the counterfactuality of some allegations in play since Congress passed the two bills in late March. Below are four especially good ones. Microchip in your brain!"The Obama health care bill under Sec. 2521, page 1,000 will establish a National Medical Device Registry," one reader posted March 25 on the Chattanoogan.com. The reader then went on to quote legislative language, from pages, 1,001 to 1,008 of the bill that made reference to "a class II device that is implantable, life-supporting, or life-sustaining." This device, the reader explained, is an "implantable radiofrequency transponder system for patient identification and health information." Lest you think this is just the ravings of one solitary commenter, be advised that the phrase "health care reform microchip"returns 55,500 results on Google.

Like McCaughey, the new Obamacare conspiracy-mongers strive for verisimilitude by citing precise bill sections and page numbers. But in truth the phrases National Medical Device Registry and Class II device appear nowhere in either the health care bill (searchable text here) nor in the follow-up reconciliation bill (searchable text here, here, and here). The language is from an earlier version of the House bill (the Senate bill never included it) and, you may not be surprised to hear, that language never called for implanting microchips in anybody's brain. It proposed that the Health and Human Services department collect data about medical devices surgically implanted in patients to help the government better gauge the devices' medical effectiveness and alert consumers in the event of a manufacturer recall. All across America, the device in question is already being inserted with the patient's consent into his brain, his heart, his knee, wherever, and its function is not to enable the government to track his whereabouts but to make his body work properly and, in many instances, to keep him alive. Medical device manufacturers opposed the registry and the House omitted it from the reconciliation bill, possibly out of concern that it would not qualify under the Senate's strict reconciliation rules.

If you're really worried that the government wants to know where you are at all times, stop bitching about the health-reform bill and throw out your cell phone.

Jungle gyms!Jason Mattera, a 26-year-old who was just named editor of the hard-right magazine Human Events, video-ambushed Al Franken on March 10 with the question, "Which portions of the health care bill will lower costs? Is it the provision giving $7 billion to fund jungle gyms or the provision mandating that employers provide time off for breast-feeding?" Franken asked Mattera to show him where in the bill he found jungle gyms. "Jungle gyms," Mattera said, "is on 1,184."

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Need I mention that jungle gym is yet another phrase that appears nowhere in the bills (searchable text here, here, here, and here)? The page Mattera referred to concerned federal "Community Transformation Grants" to state and local governments and to private nonprofit organizations to promote preventive health. Grants would require approval from the Centers For Disease Control and "may focus on (but not be limited to)" seven specified goals, one of which is "creating healthier school environments, including increasing healthy food options, physical activity opportunities, promotion of healthy lifestyle, emotional wellness, and prevention curricula, and activities to prevent chronic diseases." The project may entail "a variety of programs, policies, and infrastructure improvements," which suggests it might possibly involve building something (though given the liability issues, I wouldn't bet that the result would be a jungle gym). Where Mattera got his $7 billion figure is anybody's guess. The health care bill authorizes "such sums as may be necessary," and the Congressional Budget Office estimated the Community Transformation Grants' cost at zero, which probably means it had no idea how much Congress would eventually choose to appropriate for the program. If the figure did happen to be $7 billion, that would pay for all the Community Transformation Grants, not just grants to schools.

Topless workplaces!I'm not sure of the precise nature of Mattera's complaint that the health-reform bill mandates on-the-job breast feeding. But for starters, it doesn't. Neither the health-reform law nor any federal law says a boss can never tell a new mother not to bring her baby to work. (Twenty-four state governments, where all good conservatives believe true wisdom resides, have various laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace.)

Page 1,217 of the health care reform law says merely that employers must provide nursing mothers "a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth." Expressing breast milk (typically with a breast pump) is what mothers do when they're away from their babies all day, not when they bring them to the office in a Snugli. If Mattera is worried he may glimpse a stray nipple, mostly he should just chill out. But as it happens, the legislation requires employers to provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion." If Mattera is worried that mom won't get any work done, he should know that expressing a bottle of milk seldom takes more than 10 or 15 minutes, about as long as an employee might take for a cigarette break. If he's worried the measure will cripple small businesses, any business with 50 or fewer employees is exempt if fulfilling the mandate would entail "significant difficulty or expense."

Forced vaccinations!No variety of nut-fringe paranoia is complete without an appeal to our precious bodily fluids. Health-reform opponents concede the health-reform law won't force you to be vaccinated. But it will force you to purchase health insurance and "to obtain heath insurance you will need to prove your vaccinations are up to date." Oh, please. I've had four health insurance policies over the past 20 years and no insurer has ever asked me to produce an immunization record for myself or my children. They have certainly encouraged me to receive flu vaccinations (and to exercise and to eat right) in "wellness" newsletters that I sometimes glance at before tossing them into the trash, but that's quite different. Even if some insurer required you or your kids to get vaccinated, you could almost certainly find another one who didn't.

No doubt there are more bizarre allegations out there, but these are the loopiest ones I know.

E-mail Timothy Noah at chatterbox@slate.com.

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Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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