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When A LIE Goes Viral, The People Suffer!

Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 01/21/2011

A judge's letter on health care and an email gone viral

By Glenn Kessler
"YOU ARE NOT GOING TO LIKE THIS: ObamaCare Highlighted by Page Number ...All of the above should give you the point blank ammo you need to support your opposition to Obamacare. Please send this information on to all of your email contacts."
--excerpts from an email zooming around the United States

Zygmunt Plater, a professor at Boston College Law School, sent The Fact Checker a copy of the above email, which purports to be an analysis of the new health care law by a judge, complete with page citations.
Plater's brother, Marek, had sent him a copy of the email, asking if it could be verified, after receiving it Wednesday from a senior official at the company where he works. Under the subject heading of "Read and Heed," the official sent the email to company employees with the notation, "We are now officially out of control." There's some pretty scary stuff in here: cancer care will be rationed according to age, the government would have "real-time access" to an individual's bank accounts, the government will set all doctor's fees, and so forth. So what's truth?

The Facts
Just because it is in an email--or on the Internet--does not make it true, especially when it is woefully out of date.

There is indeed a former county judge named David Kithil who lives in Marble Falls, Texas, which is about 50 miles northeast of Austin. In August, 2009, he wrote a letter to the River Cities Tribune, a local newspaper with a circulation of under 5,000, detailing his objections to one of the health care bills then pending in the House of Representatives--H.R. 3200.

As a former judge of Burnet County, Texas, Kithil is not a health care expert--and congressional language can be obtuse. His analysis is often debatable. The assertion of "real-time access" to bank accounts appears to be referring to a benign section allowing electronic funds transfers. The claim about doctors' fees refers to boilerplate saying the government will not pay less than rates set under Medicare. Similarly, the bill does not ration cancer care, but allows for a study of whether specialty hospitals are charging more for the same service as general hospitals--and then would actually boost payments to general hospitals.

But in any case, he was analyzing a bill that had not yet passed the House. The language was changed before final House passage in November, 2009. Then the Senate in December passed its own, more conservative version of a health care overhaul. By March, 2010, the House accepted much of the Senate bill, with some adjustments. While the email refers to the dangers of so-called "Obamacare," Kithil's letter has little to do with the final version of the legislation--which Kithil readily acknowledges.

"What I wrote about was a bill that never became law," Kithil said in a telephone interview Thursday. He said he has not had an opportunity to go through the final bill, but knows that some of the items that had concerned him were not enacted into law.

But the letter is certainly an email and Internet sensation. A Google search for "David Kithil and Obamacare" turns up nearly 2,000 examples of his letter posted on websites, blogs and forums--including as recently as this month. Kithil said that someone had called the newspaper and asked permission to put the letter in an email. The next thing he knew, he was getting calls from around the country. The calls have actually picked up in recent weeks, he said, adding: "It really shows the power of the Internet."

The Pinocchio Test

The lesson here is that facts need to come from reputable, credible sources, not an email chain. Kithil is in many ways an innocent bystander. He never claimed to be an expert and merely offered his opinion to the local newspaper. There are many critiques of the health care law, both from the left and right, which have been written by health care and legislative experts. That's where people need to go for more information.
Four Pinocchios--not to Kithil, but to anyone who keeps forwarding this email.

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