When Yahoo Finance hosted an online Obamacare Q&A recently, more than 2,300 people sent in questions about how to get insurance under the new health reform law. Not surprisingly, a few hecklers were among them to rant against the law and make startling claims about the objectionable practices it will sanction -- most of them totally false.
The propaganda campaign surrounding Obamacare may be the most widespread onslaught of misinformation since the McCarthy inquisitions of the 1950s. There are many genuine problems with the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is formally known, such as its complexity and costs, new risks of fraud and the individual mandate, which rankles a lot of reasonable Americans. Critics of the law hardly have to make stuff up to give the electorate something to worry about. Yet even as the insurance exchanges set up by the ACA launch, millions of Americans seem more swayed by fallacies than facts.
So I’d like to deconstruct one myth that surfaced during the Q&A as a way to illustrate how nonsensical some of the anti-Obamacare rhetoric is, along with how simple it can be to check information that sounds suspicious. One participant submitted a comment claiming that “illegals will get free healthcare under Obamacare,” along with the following language that supposedly comes straight from the law itself:
“Page 50/section 152: The bill will provide insurance to all non-U.S. residents, even if they are here illegally.”
“Page 58 and 59: The government will have real-time access to an individual's bank account and will have the authority to make electronic fund transfers from those accounts.”
“Page 272. section 1145: Cancer hospital [sic] will ration care according to the patient's age. AGE 76, YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE FOR ANY CANCER TREATMENTS.”
You’ve got to be pretty gullible to believe that politicians elected by actual Americans would ever pass something this inflammatory. Yet people opposed to Obamacare in principle may simply be willing to suspend disbelief when presented with any evidence of its flaws, true or not. If anybody cared to check whether this information is true, here’s how you might do it.
First, look up the ACA online and see if this language is actually in there. All federal laws are public (except those pertaining to classified information) so anybody can search a law online to check what’s in it. The Affordable Care Act , it turns out, doesn’t even have a Section 152; all sections in the bill are either four or five digits, as in Sec. 2704 or Sec. 10201. There is a Sec. 152 of the Internal Revenue Code, which the ACA refers to several times, but that defines who qualifies as a given taxpayer's "dependent" and has nothing to do with immigration, legal or illegal.
While scanning the ACA, it takes only a few minutes of searching for keywords to turn up this passage, in Sec. 1312: “ACCESS LIMITED TO LAWFUL RESIDENTS.—If an individual is not, or is not reasonably expected to be for the entire period for which enrollment is sought, a citizen or national of the United States or an alien lawfully present in the United States, the individual shall not be treated as a qualified individual and may not be covered under a qualified health plan in the individual market that is offered through an Exchange.” So the law actually denies coverage to illegal immigrants. And if you’re wondering what an “alien lawfully present” is, you can search further on the Web and learn that these are basically special categories of legal immigrants whose status is uncontroversial.
Use common sense. Would Congress really pass a bill that provides health insurance to “all non-U.S. residents?” In literal terms, that would include everybody in the world EXCEPT U.S. citizens, or approximately 7 billion people. Congress might be filled with venal politicians, but it’s also staffed by hundreds of shrewd lawyers who know how to write laws and are very unlikely to make a typographical error of that magnitude.
Have a little faith in elective government. Any politician who really voted to give away gobs of taxpayer money to illegal immigrants, steal money from people’s bank accounts and cut off 76-year-old cancer patients would be run out of office, even in today’s sputtering system. Congress might be corrupt, but it’s still pretty hard to get elected if you’re a despot.
Obamacare propaganda is likely to persist, even as millions of Americans enroll in the program and begin to develop opinions of how well it works based on their own first-hand experience. Efforts to discredit the program might even intensify as critics begin to fear that the more people who sign up, the more entrenched Obamacare is likely to become.
Bogus information doesn’t just come from bashers of the program, either. The fact-checking Web site Politifact has identified 16 common myths perpetrated by critics of the ACA, but also 10 fibs emanating from Obamacare supporters, such as the claim that it will lead to better benefits and lower health insurance costs for everybody.
Perhaps the only thing about Obamacare that’s indisputable is that it has produced a gargantuan amount of hokum.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.