As soon as President Obama's new recommendations for gun violence prevention became public, right-wing media immediately claimed the president was issuing an executive action requiring doctors to ask patients about their guns. This is false. The president's released proposals only clarify that nothing in the Affordable Care Act changes longstanding law: doctors are still free (but not required) to discuss with their patients any health hazards, including a lack of gun safety at home or elsewhere.
Among the White House proposals for gun violence reduction, the president announced that the administration will "[c]larify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes." Nowhere in his proposal did he instead require doctors to ask about guns. The Drudge Report, however, immediately splashed across its website this graphic:
Rush Limbaugh picked up on this flatly inaccurate claim that the president required doctors to ask their patients about "gun ownership." Rather than explain the president's executive action only indicated future orders, regulations, or guidance will clarify that no law - including the ACA - prohibits them from discussing gun safety with their patients, Limbaugh reported it as a new directive that "deputizes gun-snitch doctors":
RUSH: So now doctors are being ordered, instructed to talk to patients and get information from them about gun ownership, where they are in their house, who has access to them, where the ammunition is kept. Doctors are now, quote, unquote, “permitted,” unquote, to do this. It makes 'em deputies, agents of the state.
RUSH: They're trying to bring a screeching halt to the effort to stop the instances of doctor-patient relationship where the doctor gains the information and passes it on. That's why the reference to Obamacare. If you go back and read Obamacare, despite what the president said in his little release today Obamacare does limit the government when it comes to gun in terms of doctors and what they can collect. They're now trying to reverse that. That's what this is about today. They're trying to stop any effort that would change what's already in place, which is doctors reporting on citizens via patient conferences.
RUSH: Yep, and people are getting upset with it. They never have liked it. This section in Obamacare, it's too much legalese to read to you. But the summary of it is it does in fact limit what data the authorities can collect from patients, what information the doctors can collect from patients and report to the authorities. That section in Obamacare was put in by the NRA. It was a sop given to the NRA. What the regime is doing today is, A, saying, “No, it's not really there; Obamacare does not prevent this,” when it does, and, “It doesn't matter anyway because we're now gonna require it even more than we already have.”
Limbaugh concedes that the executive action doesn't literally say that doctors are required to ask about gun safety, but rather, in his interpretation, "the executive action today is almost essentially requiring it." The president's proposal was likely a direct response to these types of wildly erroneous interpretations of the health care reform law and executive orders that were already floating around the right-wing blogosphere, before Limbaugh added his analysis. For example, on January 9, a Breitbart.com writer claimed the ACA says “the government cannot use doctors to collect 'any information relating to the lawful ownership or possession of a firearm or ammunition.'” But the relevant provisions within the health care reform law are explicitly limitations on what the secretary of Health and Human Services can do, not “the government” at large, and nowhere is there a prohibition on doctors inquiring about gun safety. In fact, such a prohibition has been held to be an unconstitutional violation of a doctor's First Amendment rights. As explained by the White House proposal released today:
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.
The administration is basing their interpretation on the text and intent of the law itself. The amendment may indeed have been a last-minute lobbying success for the NRA, but right-wing media inflate its reach in addition to their false claims about what the president actually did today. As reported by NBCNews.com, "[t]here are some who believe the health-care law outlaws doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes. But that's not true." From Kaiser Health News:
Did you know the Affordable Care Act stands up for gun rights? The “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights” section 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.