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You know, the new health care law is pretty complicated and there are many real questions about how or whether it will work, which makes it all the more amazing that so much of the political debate has been completely fact-free. NPR's Julie Rovner set out to see where some false claims about health care came from.
JULIE ROVNER: One of the most persistent rumors circulating on the Internet is this one, voiced here by a participant at a town hall meeting last summer held by South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis.
Unidentified Woman: One of the things that's in there, and it's on pg 1000 to 1007 - I have it right here printed directly from the bill - they want to put a chip in every one of us. It talks about it right here.
ROVNER: It's not true, by the way. The health law is silent on the subject of microchips. But Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University, has spent much of the summer tracing the origin of some of these health care horror predictions. He says this one's based on a proposal to have the Food and Drug Administration keep track of implantable medical devices.
Professor TIMOTHY JOST (Law, Washington and Lee University): And we're talking about things here like pacemakers, hip implants, things like that, that when they fail, we know what's going on and we know the incidence of it and we know how serious the failures are.
ROVNER: The implantable medical device registry was included in the health bill that passed the House last November. Also circulating on the Internet, were videos of the first microchip with medical information approved for implant in humans, which happened several years ago. What happened, in effect, says Jost, is some people put two and two together and got something a lot more than four.
Mr. JOST: People combing the web found these microchips and saw this implantable medical device registry as an attempt to implant microchips in people. And then the rumor expanded to say that all people who signed up for the public plan in that was in that bill would have to have a microchip implanted.
ROVNER: In the end, however, neither the public plan, nor the device registry made it into the final version of the bill that became law. One thing that did make it into the final bill is a provision to create a uniformed ready reserve within the Public Health Service. This has been widely misinterpreted as the creation of a private civilian army for President Obama. Here's how Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano put it this spring.
Mr. ANDREW NAPOLITANO (Analyst, Fox News): It is very scary that the president would have this private army. Why does he need an army just to help keep us healthy?
ROVNER: Well first of all, says Jost, it's not a private army.
Mr. JOST: Now, the public health service is, and I don't think a lot of people realize it, is one of our uniformed branches of service.
ROVNER: And this actually dates back to a proposal first made by the Bush administration. In the wake of 9-11, officials realized that many of those uniformed public health personnel were not ready to deploy in a health emergency.
Mr. JOST: So what this legislation does is to fund a ready reserve corps that can be called up in times of national emergency to assist the public health service for things like Hurricane Katrina or a nationwide epidemic.
ROVNER: And that's not the only part of the law people are dramatically misinterpreting. There's also been some hyperbole about how the requirement that nearly everyone have health insurance will be enforced by the Internal Revenue Service. This is Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul, on Fox business News.
Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): Just think about it: 16,500 armed bureaucrats coming to make this program work. If it's a good program and everybody liked it, you wouldn't need 16,500 thugs coming with their guns and putting you in jail if you didn't follow all the rules.
ROVNER: Jost says this too is based on a kernel of truth - an estimate last year that the IRS could need an additional $5 to 10 billion over the next 10 years to enforce the law. But jackbooted IRS agents coming to your door with guns?
Mr. JOST: None of that is true. I mean, the penalty is there. It will require some IRS resources to remind people that they owe it. There are no criminal penalties. They can't levy against your property. They can't impose liens. The money is mainly there to help people get tax credits to help them with their health insurance costs.
ROVNER: While some of the wild stories are certainly just misinterpretations, Drew Altman of the Kaiser Family Foundation says there's also something else going on, particularly by Republicans.
Mr. DREW ALTMAN (Kaiser Family Foundation): They're using health reform to try and whip up voters about Washington and big government. And so health reform becomes a device in a bigger game.
ROVNER: That bigger game, in other words, the next election.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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