Conservative Hysteria Over Obama and The Medical Profession Working Together To Reduce Gun Violence

Today’s announcement of plans by the Obama administration shows that 1) Barack Obama is paying attention to input from the medical profession, and 2) the right wing still has its problem with paranoid kooks seeing conspiracy theories in benign statements.

The conservative Weekly Standard posted the relevant passage under a fairly neutral headline, Obama Asks Doctors to Help Deal With Guns:

PRESERVE THE RIGHTS OF HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS TO PROTECT THEIR PATIENTS AND COMMUNITIES FROM GUN VIOLENCE: We should never ask doctors and other health care providers to turn a blind eye to the risks posed by guns in the wrong hands.

Clarify that no federal law prevents health care providers from warning law enforcement authorities about threats of violence: 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.

Protect the rights of health care providers to talk to their patients about gun safety: 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.

These measures were requested by the American Medical Association. The government has strict regulations to protect the privacy of medical information. The rules govern both when information must be kept secret and when information might be revealed to others and HIPPA rules never prevented physicians from warning law enforcement about threats of violence. It is helpful to make this clear as many people do have misconceptions about the law. The protection of the rights of health care provides to talk about gun safety is in response to conservatives who have wanted to use government to intrude in the physician/patient relationship and prohibit such discussion.

Rational people would find nothing controversial here, but many conservatives are not rational. The Examiner is running this story with a headline making an absurd claim that Obama makes your doctor a spy for the federal government. The article makes a number of false claims, including those in this paragraph:

Thus, the inherent, traditional privacy that has characterized the doctor-patient relationship is now gone, unless Congress rescinds the executive orders in question. Obama stated in one of the executive orders that his new Obamacare law contains no requirement of privacy and supersedes the healthcare portability act of 1998 in which Congress strengthened the privacy of healthcare patients. Obamacare wiped out all legal protections of privacy.

This makes absolutely no change in in the HIPPA law they cite, which always included the right of physicians to release patient information under several specific situations, including to warn law enforcement about threats of violence. This does not wipe out a single legal protection of privacy. I would suggest reading the HIPPA disclosure which all medical facilities provide to patients. Such statements (including the one used in my office) typically inform patients that information regarding threats of violence can legally be released to law enforcement agencies. If someone told their doctor about a  plan to kill you, or to start shooting in a public school, do you really think the doctor should be forced to keep this information secret?

Misinformation such as this is contributing to the conservative calls to impeach Obama over his executive orders on gun control. Where were these people when Bush and Cheney actually did want to exceed the Constitutional limits on the power of the president?

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