Fox Claims Voluntary Program For At-Risk Children Will Result In “Forced Home Visits”

Fox News falsely claimed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would force families to receive home visits from government officials to assess at-risk children, when in reality an initiative authorized by the law simply expands existing programs in states that are entirely voluntary and which research shows have improved maternal health and child development.

On the August 21 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed “a brand new federal program” would spend $224 million to send “government home inspectors to your house” to help at-risk children, and asked if this was “Obamacare trumping your right to privacy and snooping on you and your family.” Fox Business' Stuart Varney agreed that it was “an intrusion directly into your home and the way you raise your children,” and the two proceeded to claim that “the Obama snooper” would visit families randomly and unannounced. On-screen text described the program as “Nanny state solutions: Forced home visits for 'at-risk' kids.”

Fox Business' Stuart Varney

But the program is voluntary. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced $224 million in grants from the ACA's Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) to support states' existing home visit programs that bring “nurses, social workers, or other health care professionals to meet with at-risk families that agree to meet with them in their homes” [emphasis added]. And in a 2010 grant announcement, the federal government defined the covered home visits “as an evidence-based program, implemented in response to findings from a needs assessment, that includes home visiting as a primary service strategy ... and is offered on a voluntary basis.”

In Rhode Island, for example, families can request a home visit through community health services, or health care providers can refer families that are interested in the program. The service will then work with families to “provide them the available programs and resources they want.”

The programs offer a variety of services, including educating parents about child development and supporting school readiness, linking low-income mothers to prenatal health care, ensuring children have access to health care and immunizations, helping families access supplemental food programs and financial aid, and encouraging healthy parent-child relationships to reduce incidents of child abuse. The Department of Health and Human Services conducted an extensive review of the research on several different home visit models, and found evidence that many of the programs improved maternal health, child development, reductions in child maltreatment, and family economic self-sufficiency.

Similarly, The New York Times reported that a 2007 study of high-risk families -- including parents who were under 18, unmarried, low-income, or had inadequate prenatal care -- found that infants were more than twice as likely to survive if their family had received home visits with health workers before and after birth.