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Internet memes are great for quickly spreading jokes and important information. And because they’re also efficient at sharing inflammatory falsehoods, they keep us busy here at PolitiFact. When a reader emailed us a graphic he came across on Facebook about which groups are exempt from Obamacare, our warning bells went off.
Under the headline, "Where is your OPT OUT? Let’s get this straight, it doesn’t exist," a long list claims to show who is and is not exempt from the health care law, which requires everybody to have insurance beginning in 2014.
Groups like Congress and the White House, criminals and Muslims are listed as exempt, according to the graphic. Catholics, Jews and "you" are not. At the end, the list emphasizes, "Christians In General NO Exemption."
In addition to making the rounds on Facebook lately, we’ve found the graphic on several websites like Liberal Logic 101. It’s hard to tell when and where it originated.
A few of the items on the list are actually accurate. A lot of it, though, is plain wrong. Let’s break this down piece by piece.
PolitiFact is no stranger to the "Congress is exempt" claim. Ted Cruz and others have claimed lawmakers either have an exemption or are trying to get one.
We’ve found no truth to that. Lawmakers and their staffs are actually singled out, forced off their employer-provided insurance and sent into the health care marketplaces. (In their case, their employer is the federal government.) Members of Congress and staff will receive their traditional employer contribution to put toward a plan from the marketplaces. It’s a special circumstance, but it’s not a pass by any means. They still need to get insurance like everyone else.
Although the graphic only lists Democrats like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, it’s important to note that all lawmakers have the same obligation to buy insurance, regardless of political affiliation. So Democratic and Republican lawmakers are treated alike under the law.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are a different story, said David Howard, an Emory University health policy professor. They’re eligible for many different health coverage options, and can choose go to the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Like everyone else, they would be fined if they didn’t have any health insurance.
Incarcerated criminals are exempt from the penalty for not having insurance. That’s because it’s the prison’s responsibility to provide health care to its inmates. The Affordable Care Act specifically indicates that "incarcerated individuals excluded."
The specific care prisoners receive varies by state, but generally speaking, prisoners get regular check-ups (typically not frequently) and emergency care. This technically isn’t considered insurance.
American Indians are also exempt from the individual mandate, so members of federally recognized tribes will not be fined. They don’t have insurance, but they do get health care through the Indian Health Service, according to Leighton Ku, the director of George Washington University’s Center for Health Policy Research. They have a long-standing treaty with the federal government guaranteeing them health care.
The Indian Health Service is a federal agency that provides care to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Although they won’t be fined for not enrolling in plans through the marketplace if they are eligible for IHS care, they can still choose to do so at any time.
The meme targets a whole host of religious groups. The Amish, Scientologists, Christian Scientists and Muslims are categorized as exempt, but Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans and Jews are not. But that’s not really accurate.
The law doesn’t contain specific language about which denominations or religions would qualify for an exemption, but it does specify that individuals belonging to religious groups for exemptions if they have religious beliefs opposed to health insurance or medical treatment. These kinds of exemptions exist for other federal programs, and there are rules for determining who qualifies.
Based on who has obtained exemptions from other federal programs like Medicare and Social Security, it looks like the Amish would qualify, as would Mennonites. The assertion that an exemption for Muslims is specified in the law is wrong -- Pants on Fire wrong. Scientologists typically have no objection to medical treatment for physical ailments.
This Internet meme rattles of a list of groups that are and are not exempt from the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Most of the claims are way off-base, but we found some facts buried among the falsehoods.
Obama and Biden don’t need to buy insurance on the marketplaces, but they’re not exempt from fines if they don’t have coverage. Prisoners and American Indians are in fact exempt, but they still have health care of some sort. Members of small number of religious groups can receive exemptions if they have formal objections to medical care or health insurance, but we found no evidence that Muslims or Scientologists meet that criteria.
Because most of the list is wrong, we rate the claim Mostly False.
Beliefnet, "Scientology and the Travolta Tragedy," accessed Oct. 24, 2013
Christian Science, "Religious Exemptions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," July 2011
Email interview with O. Carter Snead, University of Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture director, Oct. 23, 2013
Email interview with David Howard, Emory University health policy professor, Oct. 22, 2013
Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, "Proposed Rules Shed Light on Individual Mandate Exceptions," Feb. 13, 2013
Healthcare.gov, "What do American Indians and Alaska Natives Need to Know About the Marketplace?" accessed Oct. 23, 2013
Indian Health Service, "Agency Overview," accessed Oct. 23, 2013
Liberal Logic 101, "Who Gets to Opt-Out of Obamacare," accessed Oct. 22, 2013
Los Angeles Times, "President Obama’s VIP Healthcare," Aug. 5, 2009
Phone and email interviews with Leighton Ku, George Washington University Center for Health Policy Research director, Oct. 22, 2013
PolitiFact, " ‘Dhimmitude’ on Page 107 of the Health Care Law Exempts Muslims, Claims Chain Email," May 30, 2013
PolitiFact, "Sen. Ted Cruz says Obama ‘just granted all of Congress an exception’ to Obamacare," Aug. 14, 2013
Slate, "What’s the Health Care System Like in Prison?" March 25, 2009
U.S. Government Printing Office, "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," March 23, 2010
USA Today, "Affordable Care Act a Hard Sell For Native Americans," Oct. 15, 2013
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