Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 24, 2013

No 'forced home inspections'

By factcheck.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Rating: Pants on Fire!

A startling Obamacare claim swept from blog to blog last week: “SHOCKING: Obamacare Provision Will Allow ‘Forced’ Home Inspections.”

One blogger used a photo of armed officers entering a cottage, with the overline, “We’re from the government and we’re here to raid your home.” Another said “this is why the IRS has been training with AR-15s.”

A reader sent us a post from BenSwann.com, “Obamacare provision: ‘Forced’ home inspections.”

He wondered if it were true. So did we.

South Carolina’s concern

“Forced home inspections”? Um, no.

The flurry originated with BenSwann.com blogger Joshua Cook on Aug. 13. He picked up the phrase “forced home inspections” from a state lawmaker in South Carolina.

Back in March, as a group of state legislators discussed a bill to fight the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Rick Quinn offered a specific example of something in the law that worried him: “The forced home inspections that I’ve heard about.”

Cook was there. And the comment nagged him. He noticed people weren’t really writing about the issue.

“It’s just been bothering me,” he told PolitiFact.

So he wrote about it last week, talking with an attorney who spoke at the committee hearing and posting a video clip of Quinn’s comment.

“The point is South Carolina legislators believe it, and are convinced this is going to happen,” Cook told us.

Quinn, indeed, had added an amendment to the South Carolina Freedom of Health Care Protection Act to prevent state workers from conducting any “involuntary … in-home visitation.” It passed the House, but the Senate didn’t have a chance to vote. Cook says lawmakers hope to revive the legislation in the next session.

But that Obamacare program that worries Quinn? It already is —by statute — voluntary.

There’s literally nothing to suggest raids or weapons.

Home visiting programs

Concerned bloggers pointed to an Obamacare-funded grant program for “maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting.” In 2011, the government announced $224 million in funding.

Most of those grants are going to health departments - none, so far, in South Carolina.

The idea: fund visits from nurses and social workers to high-risk families to help them develop skills to keep kids healthy, get them ready for school, and prevent child abuse and neglect.

Home-visit programs already existed in 40 states.

But to Kent Masterson Brown, a health care litigator invited by South Carolina lawmakers to help them avoid implementing Obamacare, the programs suggest overzealous nonprofits telling parents how to raise their children without their consent.

Brown raises the specter of a home-schooling family subject to “intervention” for school readiness, their children forced into schools and onto medications and vaccines.

“The federal government will now set the standards for raising children and will enforce them by home visits,” he wrote about the law.

But consent is built into the program.

A home visitor could no more compel a family to vaccinate kids than a pediatrician could, said Kay Johnson, a professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School who’s one of the nation’s experts on state home visiting policy.

Here’s what the Affordable Care Act says: Home-visiting programs must assure they’ll have procedures that ensure “the participation of each eligible family in the program is voluntary.”

Here’s how that might work, according to Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, who supports such programs.

A low-income mom gets her prenatal care at a community health center. Her doctor asks if she would like visits from a nurse after the baby comes to offer tips and answer questions.

Mom could say yes — or no.

It’s like the old days of health care, Rosenbaum said, when nurses would visit families to show how to breastfeed, sterilize bottles, care for babies and cope when you’re exhausted.

“It’s real health education in the home, is the purpose of it,” she said.

Such programs have a long history backed by peer-reviewed research, she said. They work.

“They make sure that you don’t go home to nothing. It’s done to help families, not to police them.”

A classic randomized trial in Elmira, N.Y., showed nurse visits to families of newborns reduced child abuse and neglect, even years later. They also reduced government spending for low-income unmarried women.

Brown, the lawyer, says he’s concerned families have no protection from social workers. He’s concerned workers won’t be well-trained and will overstep families’ rights.

Nobody should knock on your door without a badge, he said.

“What I see in this is a monster, frankly. And you can quote me on that,” he said.

That’s the fear.

The law, however, specifies that programs be voluntary, their staffs trained and supervised, and the home-visiting models they follow based on strong research.

Any “forced home inspection” wouldn’t be under the law — it would be in direct opposition to it.

And if a family welcomed help but later decided it made them uncomfortable?

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the U.S. agency administering the program, said families could stop accepting services “without consequence at any time and for any reason.”

Our ruling

Bloggers passed around a claim last week that a provision of the new health care law will allow “forced” home inspections by government agents.

But the program they pointed to provides grants for voluntary help to at-risk families from trained staff like nurses and social workers.

What bloggers describe would be an egregious abuse of the law — not what’s allowed by it.

We rate the claim Pants on Fire.