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Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact: Bachmann invents IRS database of personal secrets

The statement

The IRS is going to be "in charge" of "a huge national database" on health care that will include Americans' "personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest-secrets."

Michele Bachmann, in an interview on Fox News

The ruling

Is the government constructing a database? The Federal Data Services hub that the government is creating is a mechanism for extracting data from a variety of databases that exist at other agencies. The hub doesn't collect, centralize and store data; it is designed to allow real-time access to data that resides on servers of other agencies in order to verify transactions related to the health insurance exchanges.

In an April release, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a part of HHS, said that it has completed the hub's technical design and is in the midst of testing it. "The hub will not store consumer information, but will securely transmit data between state and federal systems to verify consumer application information," the center said in the statement. Health and Human Services pledges "strict privacy controls to safeguard personal information," added spokesman Brian Cook.

"This is not a huge national database of health records," said Deven McGraw of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Will the IRS be "in charge" of the hub? No. It's being built by HHS. To ensure compatibility, the IRS needs to cooperate with the department on the effort, but the IRS has only a supporting role in building the system, and the IRS will not be able to use the hub to view information in the other agencies' databases.

Will the hub include "personal" or "intimate" details? The hub is not designed to access, much less store, information like body mass index, or whether you have a serious illness or ingrown toenails. The hub will be able to tell if someone has insurance or not, but it will not access records about their health. It could access details such as adjusted gross income and Social Security numbers, but those already exist in federal databases, so the hub wouldn't represent an expansion of federal data collection.

Would the hub affect all, or most Americans? No. The data won't be accessed by the hub unless an individual logs on to the new insurance exchanges in order to purchase insurance.

So Bachmann has mischaracterized the intent and limitations of the hub. It's not a "database." The IRS isn't running it. It won't include "intimate" health data. And most Americans won't need to interact with it at all. We rate her claim Pants on Fire.

Edited for print. Read the full version at

PolitiFact: Bachmann invents IRS database of personal secrets 05/20/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 10:18pm]
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