Among the 23 gun-related executive orders issued by President Barack Obama last week was one clearing up confusion about an NRA-backed provision that had been tucked into the president's signature policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
The "Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights" provision, which begins on page 19 of the voluminous health care act known as Obamacare, bans doctors from aggregating data about patients' gun use and bars insurance companies that participate in health care exchanges from charging different premiums for gun owners.
The inclusion of the measure in the president's key piece of legislation exemplifies the broad reach of the National Rifle Association and foreshadows the difficulty Obama will face in getting Congress, and not necessarily just the Republican-controlled House, to pass any significant gun control legislation.
The sponsor of the last-minute gun rights amendment to the health care law was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a veteran Democratic politician from Nevada with a "B" rating from the NRA.
The language only recently came to the attention of many doctors and public health advocates, who have expressed the most concern about the part that bars them from creating databases with information about whether their patients own guns.
That's the part that Obama's executive order clarifies. The order will "protect the rights of health care providers to talk to their patients about gun safety," according to a fact sheet distributed by the White House.
"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," the fact sheet reads. "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."
There was "some confusion about the language" in the law and the Obama administration wanted "to clarify that it doesn't prohibit doctors from talking with their patients about health care issues, including guns," a White House source said. "We're clearing that up for doctors."
Late last month, a group of health care advocates including the American Academy of Pediatrics sent a harshly worded letter to the Obama administration saying that "pediatric advocates vehemently reject" the provision barring health care providers from collecting and housing information regarding the presence of firearms in the home.
Kansas City pediatrician Denise Dowd, who authored the AAP's statement on firearm injury protection, said she was caught off-guard by the NRA-backed language in the federal law.
"I didn't underestimate the political power that the proponents of the NRA have, but I was a little surprised to see it in there," Dowd said. "It was done at the 11th hour. It was done after the ACA was vetted through the medical societies. It's another example of the NRA insinuating itself into whatever (it) can. What other product got into the Affordable Care Act? Cars? Swimming pools? Those are all things we talk about that are dangers to kids."
Although Dowd said it is clear to her that the law does not prevent discussions about guns, she said it was necessary that Obama set the record straight because the language gave some doctors pause.
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