Conservative media's recent smear that surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is controversial because he supports doctors discussing safe gun ownership with their patients is curious given frequent complaints from right-wing media -- albeit false -- that health care reform posed a threat to the inviolable doctor-patient relationship.
Murthy Has Supported Doctor-Patient Gun Safety Discussions, A Non-Controversial Practice Protected By The First Amendment
Murthy's Advocacy Group Opposes Laws "Preventing Physicians From Discussing Gun Safety With Patients." In a letter to Vice President Biden following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Murthy's group Doctors for America noted that "multiple states have sought to prevent physicians from assessing that risk by limiting what physicians can talk about with their patients," instead of allowing doctors to discuss injury prevention with patients as they deem appropriate:
3. Remove prohibitions and barriers that keep health professionals from protecting our patients from harm.
One of our most important tasks as health care providers is to counsel our patients about how to take care of themselves and prevent disease and injury. We counsel patients about tobacco cessation, educate them about diet, and remind them to wear seatbelts and sunscreen.
Yet gun violence is an area where both state and federal policies have prohibited us from doing our job. Research shows that having a gun at home markedly increases risk of injury and suicide. Despite this, legislators in multiple states have sought to prevent physicians from assessing that risk by limiting what physicians can talk about with their patients.
Specific approaches should include:
- Prohibit laws preventing physicians from discussing gun safety with patients.
[Doctors for America, 1/9/13]
National Physicians Alliance Doctor: Asking About Guns In The Home Is "Common Sense," "Supported By Basic Public Health Research." In a March 18 blog for The Huffington Post, Dr. Sanjeev K. Sriram -- a pediatrician and member of the National Physicians Alliance -- pointed to unintentional shootings involving children and domestic violence as reasons doctors ask patients about gun safety:
When you look more closely at what Dr. Murthy has advocated in regards to gun safety, you find objectives that are supported by basic public health research and common sense, such as encouraging physicians to ask if there is a gun in their patients' home. Given the fact that a child's own home is where 89 percent of unintentional shooting deaths for children occur, it is a responsible standard of practice for children's doctors to ask families if there is a gun in their home, and if so, how it is stored. When our patients are suffering from domestic violence, it is important for their health and safety that physicians ask about firearms: the risk of being murdered by an abuser is 8 times higher if a gun is in the home. Asking saves lives, and that was why Dr. Murthy and thousands of doctors have advocated against dangerous laws that would punish health care providers for asking patients about their access to firearms. [The Huffington Post, 3/18/14]
Federal Court: Law That Prevented Florida Doctors From Asking About Guns Violated The First Amendment. The Miami Herald reported that a United States district court struck down an NRA-backed Florida law that barred doctors from asking patients about gun ownership because it violated the First Amendment right to free speech. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke also noted in her ruling, "What is curious about this law -- and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners' speech -- is that it aims to restrict a practitioner's ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient":
A federal judge has blocked the state of Florida from enforcing a new law pushed by firearm advocates that banned thousands of doctors from discussing gun ownership with their patients.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who had already issued a preliminary injunction last September, made her decision permanent late Friday when she ruled in favor of groups of physicians who asserted the state violated their free speech rights. She said the law was so "vague" that it violated the First Amendment rights of doctors, noting the legislation's privacy provisions "fail to provide any standards for practitioners to follow."
The physicians' lawsuit, an ideological battle between advocates of free speech and the right to bear arms, has been dubbed "Docs vs. Glocks." The state Department of Health could appeal her summary judgment, which addressed legislation signed into law last year by Gov. Rick Scott.
In her 25-page ruling, Cooke clearly sided with the physicians, saying evidence showed that physicians began "self-censoring" because of the "chilling" effect of the legislation.
"What is curious about this law -- and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners' speech -- is that it aims to restrict a practitioner's ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient, whether relevant or not at the time of the consult with the patient," Cooke wrote, citing the benefit of such "preventive medicine." [Miami Herald, 7/2/12]
Right-Wing Media Attack Murthy Over His Support For Robust Doctor-Patient Counseling
Fox News Host Elisabeth Hasselbeck Baselessly Speculates: Talking To Doctors About Guns Means That Information Could End Up Online. During the March 11 edition of Fox & Friends, Hasselbeck claimed Murthy "believes doctors should be able to collect information about gun owners which then goes on record. And as you know, now everything is computerized, so all of your gun information would potentially be online." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/11/14]
Fox News Legal Analyst Peter Johnson, Jr.: Doctors Documenting Gun Ownership Goes "Too Far." On Fox & Friends, guest host Johnson Jr. cited Murthy's opposition to Florida's unconstitutional law prohibiting doctors from talking to patients about guns to claim that Murthy has "advocated the notion that a doctor should document whether you own a gun or not, as the intersection of medicine and politics, again, go too far." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/11/14]
Fox News' Shannon Bream: "Critics" Of Murthy "Worried" He Supports "Allowing Doctors To Ask Children If Their Parents Keep Guns In Their Homes." On America's News HQ, Fox News reporter Shannon Bream claimed "critics" of Murthy were "worried" over "his support for things like allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes." [Fox News, America's News HQ, 3/18/14]
FoxNews.com Columnist John Lott: One Of "Good Reasons" The NRA Opposes Murthy Is His Advocacy For Physician Gun Safety Discussions. In a March 19 opinion piece on FoxNews.com, Lott wrote that Murthy "has advocated that physicians question parents about their gun ownership and counsel them not to own guns or always to store them locked up," claiming this was a "good reason" for the NRA to oppose his nomination. [FoxNews.com, 3/19/14]
Right-Wing Media Have Previously Claimed Affordable Care Act Interferes With The Doctor-Patient Relationship
Fox Political Analyst Karl Rove: "If You Don't Think The Affordable Care Act Is Getting Between You And Your Doctor, Go Talk To Your Doctor And See What They Say About It." [Fox News, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, 3/27/13 via Nexis]
Fox News Contributor Charles Krauthammer: Affordable Care Act Means "138 Or So New Commissions And Regulators Getting Between You And Your Doctor." [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 1/18/11 via Nexis]
Fox News Legal Analyst Andrew Napolitano: Congress "Has Voted To Put A Federal Bureaucrat Between You And Your Doctor." [Fox News, Beck, 6/28/10 via Nexis]
Fox News Host Ainsley Earhardt: "Thanks To Obamacare, Doctors Will Be Forced To Ask Patients About Their Sex Life, Even If It Has Nothing To Do With The Medical Treatment That They Are Seeking At The Time." [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 9/17/13 via Media Matters]
Conservative Writer Betsy McCaughey: Yet-To-Be Created Rules Will Place Affordable Care Act Between You And Your Doctor. In a January 1 op-ed for the New York Post, McCaughey -- a serial misinformer on health care reform -- suggested that the Department of Health and Human Services will create rules to grant itself "blanket authority to dictate how doctors treat patients":
But the biggest whopper about the Affordable Care Act is yet to be exposed: the tightening grip the federal government will have over your doctor -- even if you're paying with private insurance.
Like so many other parts of ObamaCare, the reality flies in the face of promises. In this case, it was the one where the president assured us that "you're not going to have anybody getting in between you and your doctor in your decision making."
Section 1311(h)(1)(B) of the health law gives the secretary of Health and Human Services blanket authority to dictate how doctors treat patients. [New York Post, 1/1/14]
PolitiFact Debunks Right-Wing Talking Point That Affordable Care Act "Puts Federal Government Between You And Your Doctor"
PolitiFact Rated Mitt Romney Claim That "Obamacare Puts The Federal Government Between You And Your Doctor" As "False." According to a 2012 PolitiFact article, the claim that "Obamacare puts the federal government between you and your doctor" is false largely because "[t]he overarching fact about the law is that it relies on the private sector" (emphasis added):
The Republican position on the health care law is that it represents a government takeover of the health care system. In his response to the Supreme Court ruling to uphold the law, Mitt Romney stayed on message. "Perhaps most troubling of all, Obamacare puts the federal government between you and your doctor," Romney said.
This is a slightly different version of the broader statement about a government takeover, which PolitiFact has repeatedly found to be false and sometimes outrageously so. In fact, that claim was PolitiFact's 2010 Lie of the Year. We will try to set the record straight on this particular assertion.
We asked the Romney campaign to explain exactly how the Affordable Care Act puts the government between patient and doctor. We did not hear back, and Romney did not elaborate in his original comments.
The overarching fact about the law is that it relies on the private sector. Employers still buy private health insurance for their workers. The law doesn't change how much doctors are paid or what services they can provide, though it does create incentives and penalties to promote better care. (One example: It penalizes hospitals if patients are re-admitted soon after being discharged.)
It establishes a minimum benefits package for insurance plans and fosters competition among health insurance companies by creating shopping websites. These sites, called exchanges, will allow customers to pick insurance plans the same way they might buy other things online, such as refrigerators or airplane tickets.The law also gives subsidies to people of limited means so they can buy their own insurance.
If the health care law did get between doctors and patients, you would think most doctors would complain loudly. While some do, the leading physician advocacy group, the American Medical Association, does not. On the contrary, the AMA supports the law. [PolitiFact, 7/9/12]