You’re visiting a doctor because you have flu symptoms. After checking your heart, pulse and other vital signs, the doctor says, “By the way, the federal government has authorized me to ask you: What type and how many guns do you have in your home?”
No. It’s 2013.
And if President Barack Obama gets his way by executive order, doctors across the country could play a key role in his new gun control initiative.
Obama on Wednesday released 23 executive actions and orders to limit gun usage. And many already have stirred significant controversy.
Order 16, for example, might raise serious concerns with privacy advocates. The order, as summarized, states federal agencies will “clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.”
In addition, a fact sheet provided by the White House with the order list elaborates: “Clarify that no federal law prevents health care providers from warning law enforcement authorities about threats of violence.”
The fact sheet continues: “Doctors and other mental health professionals play an important role in protecting the safety of their patients and the broader community by reporting direct and credible threats of violence to the authorities. But there is public confusion about whether federal law prohibits such reports about threats of violence. The Department of Health and Human Services is issuing a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits these reports in any way.
“Doctors and other health care providers also need to be able to ask about firearms in their patients’ homes and safe storage of those firearms, especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses or if they have a young child or mentally ill family member at home. Some have incorrectly claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking their patients about guns and gun safety. Medical groups also continue to fight against state laws attempting to ban doctors from asking these questions.
“The Administration will issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including about firearms.”
In 2010, the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. The law totals more than 2,700 pages, but also grants the president and federal agencies sweeping powers over health care. So far, more than 13,000 pages of additional federal regulations have been issued with more to come.
The National Rifle Association has long argued that doctors violate patients’ Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms by asking about gun ownership.
A federal judge in July issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of a Florida law that would have prohibited doctors from asking patients about gun ownership in many instances, saying the prohibition impinged on doctors’ First Amendment right to speak with their patients about gun safety.
The law would have allowed physicians to ask about guns if it seemed relevant to a patient’s medical care or safety — for example, if a patient was severely depressed or experiencing violence in the home.
Six other states — Alabama, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia — have considered similar legislation in recent years.
According to Kaiser Health News, the 2010 health care reform bill doesn’t prevent doctors from asking about guns, but it does prohibit insurers, employers, and the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services from asking about gun ownership in many instances, and it prohibits HHS from collecting such data.
While revealing a summarized version of President Obama’s executive order Wednesday, the White House has yet to publish the full details and scope of the orders, including the one relating to doctors and guns.
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