By Jay Hancock
Kaiser Health News
Did you know the Affordable Care Act stands up for gun rights? The “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights” section (page 19 in this PDF) says the health law’s wellness programs can’t require participants to give information about guns in the house. It also keeps the Department of Health and Human Services from collecting data on gun use and stops insurance companies from denying coverage or raising premiums on members because of gun use.
The massacre in Newtown, Conn., renews the controversy about whether gun violence is a public health issue. Should health authorities view guns in the same category as pneumonia and car crashes? The debate has been going on for years, with epidemiologists arguing firearms can kill just as many as a bad flu season and gun-rights advocates viewing any attention from public health officials as a step toward gun confiscation — the beginning of the end of the Second Amendment.
The ACA language, which does not prohibit doctors from inquiring about guns in the household, was included at the request of Nevada Democrat Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and a gun rights supporter. Reid’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The language was inserted after the act cleared the Senate Finance Committee and before it was voted on by the full Senate.
The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment.
Public health scholars criticize the measure because they say it keeps doctors and nurses from doing their jobs. While the law doesn’t ban doctors from asking about guns, it places limits on what information caregivers can record. Health pros fear physicians will avoid the topic altogether, inhibiting a full conversation about firearms hazards.
“A lot of people buy guns every year, and it’s a health concern,” said Susan Sorenson, professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “For physicians and other health care professionals not to be able to ask about these issues and record them is counterproductive.” Doctors ask patients about illegal drug use, disease history and sexual habits, Sorenson said. Why not guns? “To regulate what the provider can or can’t do really intrudes into the role of the health care provider,” she added, “which is to ensure the health of the individual and the people who are living in that home.”
But some think firearms in your closet are none of a doctor’s business. Marion Hammer, a former NRA president and lobbyist for the group in Florida, told Kaiser Health News last month that people don’t take their children to the doctor ”for political dialogue or for pediatricians to ask us not to exercise a constitutional right.”
She was referring to a Florida law that limits conversations doctors can have with patients about guns. Last summer U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke permanently enjoined the state from enforcing the statute, saying it restricted free speech.
The Connecticut massacre has also renewed criticism of Congress’s decision years ago to defund research on guns and public health by the Centers for Disease Control.
“We are in an environment when children are dying and we are playing political games,” Dr. David Satcher, who was director of the CDC in the 1990s, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.