Obamacare is going to implant you with a microchip. Obamacare is going to tax your golf club. Obamacare is going to create a massive unprecedented federal database to hold all of your "intimate…secrets."
One of the largest components of the Affordable Care Act—the health exchanges from which Americans can buy discount health coverage—will go into effect on October 1. And that has right-wingers in conspiracy theory high gear. Here are seven conspiracy theories about the health care law, along with debunkings from the fact-check websites PolitiFact and Snopes:
The Claim: A chain email making the rounds this summer claims that a "hidden" provision of Obamacare taxes sporting goods as medical devices, including "Sport fishing equipment; Fishing rods and fishing poles; Electric outboard motors; Fishing tackle boxes; Bows, quivers, broadheads and points; Arrow shafts; Coal; Taxable tires; Gas guzzler automobiles." Yikes!
The Reality: Obamacare does impose a 2.3 percent tax on some medical devices to offset the added costs of expanding health coverage to the uninsured, which went into effect at the beginning of the year. But, as PolitiFact points out, none of the items listed in the chain email is labeled as a medical device by the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which defines the types of devices that can be taxed. No, Obamacare won't be taxing your golf club after all.
The Claim: Another zombie chain email warns that Obamacare will deny old people cancer treatment: "Please for the sake of many good people, please… pass this on. We all need to be informed. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO LIKE THIS… At age 76 when you most need it, you are not eligible for cancer treatment."
The Reality: This particular email has been making the rounds for a good four years, according to Snopes, and is based on an old version of the law that didn't pass. But even that version of the legislation did not ration cancer care; in fact, the American Nurses Association says the cancer treatment section of that law would implement "the opposite of rationing. The section allows Medicare to pay cancer hospitals more if they are incurring higher costs." Similarly, there is no cut-off age for cancer treatment under the law that passed, known as Obamacare. "The claim is based on an inaccurate reading of a bill that went nowhere," PolitiFact concludes.
The Claim: Beware, Obamacare is going to implant a microchip in you, cautions yet another chain email batting around the internet: "This new Health Care (Obamacare) law requires and RFID [radio frequency identification] chip implanted in all of us. This chip will not only contain your personal information with tracking capability but it will also be linked to your bank account."
The Reality: As Snopes points out, "[C]laims that health care reform legislation will require such implantations date to the Clinton administration" and are "often linked to the 'mark of the beast' referenced in Revelations." The sections of legislation referenced in the email and others like it pertain to a passage in a previous version of the health care law that called for the creation of a registry that would allow the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect data about medical devices "used in or on a patient"—such as pacemakers or hip replacements—in order to track their effectiveness. Nothing in the Affordable Care Act calls for the government to stick a microchip in your wrist.
The Claim: Illegal immigrants will get health coverage under Obamacare, warns one widely circulated, oft-debunked, and still undead chain email.
The Reality: The health care law requires Americans (Americans) to purchase health insurance. Undocumented immigrants "don't have to follow the mandate because they shouldn’t be here," PolitiFact reiterates. "They [also] remain ineligible for regular Medicaid coverage, just as they are ineligible for food stamps."
The Claim: Thomas Jefferson warned of the dangers of government interference in health care. Here is the purported quote from our founding father, via a chain email: "If the people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in a sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny."
The Reality: Jefferson did write something similar in a book published in 1785 called Notes on the State of Virginia: "Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet," he wrote, "our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now." The latter quote was transformed into the former in the 1990s, Snopes explains, and has been trotted out repeatedly as a caution against government meddling in private medical practice. But that wasn't Jefferson's argument; he was suggesting that legislating morality was as useless as legislating what a person eats.
6. Almost Everyone Who Works for a Small Business Is Getting Fired
The Reality: The Chamber study involved 1,300 small business executives, but PolitiFact did some digging and found out that the Chamber did not actually survey the entire group on whether they'd fire employees because of the law. Only 17 percent of survey members said they would be impacted by the law's so-called employer mandate. Out of that 17 percent of small businessmen and women, the study purportedly found that 75 percent of them said they would cut hours or replace workers, but Politico found that even that number was fudged by lumping survey questions together. Math shows that out of all small business execs in the study, only 5 to 9 percent actually said they would cut back hours or replace full-time workers in response to the health care law.
The Claim: In May, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) warned of a "huge national database" created by the health care law that will collect Americans' "personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest-secrets." The claim has been widely discredited, but fringy conservative email chains continue to perpetuate the falsehood.
The Reality: The government is not constructing a database that collects, centralizes, and stores data. The health care law does create something called a Federal Data Hub which will allow HHS to extract data—such as whether a person already has health insurance—from already existing databases at other state and federal agencies. The hub will be used to verify consumer information when they are purchasing health insurance on the exchanges. The hub also has the ability to access income data and Social Security numbers, but that information already exists in other federal databases, "so the hub wouldn’t represent an expansion of federal data collection," according to PolitiFact. Brian Cook, a spokesman for HHS, told the fact-checking organization that the hub will have "strict privacy controls to safeguard personal information."
If President Barack Obama nominates Janet Yellen, the second-ranking official at the Federal Reserve, to be the next chairman of the central bank, she would be the first woman to ever occupy the post. This fact—and reports that Obama is considering former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers for the same post—has prompted editorialsworrying that Yellen wouldn't be up to the job, as well as more subtle attacks on her lack of "gravitas."
Although Obama has spoken of the importance of diversity in his administration, his inner economic team is a boys' club, says Sheila Bair, a former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation who has pushed publicly for Obama to pick Yellen to run the Fed. The top administration jobs that most affect the financial industry, Bair explains, are the chair of the Fed, the secretary of the Treasury, the head of the New York Federal Reserve, and the comptroller of the currency. And although there have been a few women in other top economic policy positions in the Obama administration, none of these big four spots has ever been filled by a woman.
The economy added 162,000 jobs in July and the jobless rate fell to 7.4 percent, according to new numbers released Friday by the Labor Department. But the drop in unemployment is mostly due to the fact that fewer people were seeking work last month, and thus were not officially counted as unemployed by the government; the total share of Americans with jobs actually shrunk.
As in recent months, employment rose in low-wage jobs like retail and food services. Retail added 47,000 jobs in July, and jobs in food service and at bars increased by 38,000. Employment also edged upward in the financial sector and manufacturing. July was the 34th month in a row in which the economy gained jobs.
But the labor force participation rate—the total share of Americans who are working—declined from 63.5 percent to 63.4 percent. Here is a chart that the liberal nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released recently showing how the drop in unemployment does not translate into a healthier workforce:
Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas explained why this is happening at the Washington Post Friday:
Unemployment has fallen 2.5 percent from its post-recession peak, but the share of working-age adults with jobs has barely budged….The popular (well, popular among depressed econ wonks) image of discouraged workers sighing and deleting their Monster.com account once and for all is wrong. The rate of labor force exit is actually lower than it was in the aftermath of the 2001 recession. It's labor force entry that's suffered.
In particular, it's suffered among women—and it's really suffered among young women—who are a lot less likely to enter the labor force than they were in 2002 and 2003.
That is, in certain ways, a more encouraging trend: Discouraged workers who leave the labor force typically see their skills erode. Young people who delay entry are often staying in school longer, gathering skills that will ultimately prove valuable to them (and student loan debt that will prove burdensome).
But that comforting possibility surely doesn't explain all of the drop in entry we’re seeing among younger people. And it doesn’t really explain any of the drop in entry we're seeing among older people.
If the US economy keeps adding jobs at the current rate, it will take about seven years to get back to the pre-recession jobs level, according to the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.
That could be likely, given other economic indicators and expected policy. New numbers show that GDP growth was slower than expected in the second quarter of this year. Personal disposable income declined for the first quarter of the year, according to the most recent report, and average hourly earnings fell in June. Another budget impasse in Washington this fall may mean that sequestration cuts continue through this year and beyond. And the Federal Reserve could soon cut back on its economic stimulus measures given the recent superficially positive jobs numbers.
Last week, a US federal court indicted a Russian hacker named Aleksandr Kalinin for allegedly hacking into the NASDAQ stock exchange. Kalinin had access to two NASDAQ servers for a couple of years between 2007 and 2010, and during that time was able to enter commands to change and delete data. The case has heightened fears that the next time a trading system is hacked—which is becoming pretty common—rogue programmers could cause a financial collapse. The good news is that the US government has recently drafted a plan to combat stock exchange hackers. The bad news, experts say, is that the government's plan is not going to help much.
The government's anti-hacking plan comes in the form of a regulation recently proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a Wall Street regulator. The rule would require exchanges, including NASDAQ, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, to ensure that their trading technologies adhere to a set of standards that the SEC has for two decades urged exchanges to adopt voluntarily. It would force exchanges to conduct stress tests of their core technology, submit to regular system reviews to identify vulnerabilities to hackers, and draft recovery plans in case of security breaches. But financial reform advocates, software security experts, and cybersecurity gurus say the rule is far too weak to provide any meaningful protection against cyber criminals.
The way that the SEC defines whether an exchange is adhering to the regulation is too vague, says Dennis Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, a financial reform group. Instead of laying out specific requirements for system reviews, for example, the SEC "defer[s] to unspecified practices and standards set by other regulators or 'widely recognized' organizations," Kelleher wrote in a letter to the agency. Without clearer language, Kelleher worries, exchanges could comply with the letter of the regulation without making any meaningful security upgrades. (The SEC declined to comment for this story.)
College attendance rates for African-American and Latino students have been increasing steadily in recent years. But here's the bad news that comes along with that: those students are mostly attending non-selective four-year colleges and community colleges, while whites are increasingly attending prestigious colleges and universities, the Washington Post reports.
A study released Wednesday by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that between 1995 and 2009, college enrollment more than doubled for Latinos and jumped 73 percent for African Americans, while only increasing 15 percent for whites. During that period, 80 percent of white college freshman enrolled in the nation's top 468 colleges, while only 13 percent of Latinos and nine percent of African-Americans went to those selective four-year schools. More than two-thirds of African Americans and almost three-quarters of Hispanics went to non-selective schools. Look:
It's not because minority students are less qualified. Thirty percent of African-American and Hispanic students who had an A average in high school attend community colleges, compared with 22 percent of whites, according to the report, which says that unequal educational outcomes for minorities can be attributed to things like family income, and peer expectations, but also to simply not being white.
"The higher-education system is colorblind in theory but in fact operates, at least in part, as a systematic barrier to opportunity for many blacks and Hispanics, many of whom are college-qualified but tracked into overcrowded and under-funded colleges, where they are less likely to develop fully or to graduate," Anthony Carnevale, one of the report's authors, told the Post.
Here's how unequal college paths for whites and non-whites contributes to growing inequality in America, via the Post:
Students at the nation's top 468 colleges are the beneficiaries of much more spending—anywhere from two to five times as much as what is spent on instruction at community colleges or other schools without admissions requirements. And students at top schools are far more likely to graduate than students at other institutions, even when they are equally prepared, according to the report. In addition, graduates of top schools are far more likely than others to go on to graduate school.
The financial implications of those differences are huge: A worker with an advanced degree is expected to earn as much as $2.1 million more in his or her lifetime than a college dropout, the report said. Also, the report said graduates of selective colleges earn an average of $67,000 a year 10 years after graduation, about $18,000 a year more than their counterparts who graduate from non-selective schools.
The report's authors say that in order to combat growing racial polarization in higher education, more resources need to be directed to improve students' academic experiences at non-selective schools, which often struggle with over-crowded classrooms and outdated materials. The authors say that colleges and lawmakers should also do more to bring black and Hispanic students into top schools.
The report comes just as the Supreme Court recently dealt a blow to affirmative action. In June, the high court allowed affirmative action to survive, but made it harder to institute as part of the admissions process, ruling that schools must first prove there are "no workable race-neutral alternatives" to achieve diversity on campus.