This month’s deadly rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School has sparked a national conversation about improving gun control laws and the woeful state of America’s mental health care system. Fortunately, Obamacare will address the latter by increasing access to mental health services through its Medicaid expansion and state-wide health exchanges — but Kaiser Health News reports that a little known NRA-backed provision in the health law may undermine the former.
Inserted into the Affordable Care Act at the request of pro-gun, NRA-backed Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Obamacare subsection titled “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights” makes it illegal for wellness and better-living programs to require “the disclosure or collection of any information relating to… the presence or storage of a lawfully-possessed firearm or ammunition in the residence or on the property of an individual; or… the lawful use, possession, or storage of a firearm or ammunition by an individual.” The provision also prohibits insurers from using a patient’s gun possession status in order to determine premium rates.
Supporters might argue that gun ownership is a personal choice, and that patients should have a right to privacy from providers and insurers on such a matter. But critics say the provision stifles meaningful dialogue between providers and patients on an issue that undeniably has implications for public health and medical costs.
As University of Pennsylvania social policy professor Susan Sorenson puts it, “A lot of people buy guns every year, and it’s a health concern… To regulate what the provider can or can’t do really intrudes into the role of the health care provider, which is to ensure the health of the individual and the people who are living in that home.”
And Obamacare doesn’t extend this privacy to other costly lifestyle choices. Last month, the Obama administration issued a rule allowing insurers to consider patients’ smoking histories when setting their premium rates. Gun violence costs Americans $5.6 billion in annual medical bills, but the totals are actually closer to $100 billion per year — the same number that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that smoking costs Americans each year in medical costs — when accounting for lost productivity.
The fact that such a provision found its way into the health care law without so much as a mention from the media or national politicians underscores the far reach of the gun lobby’s influence. Sen. Reid, who quietly requested the addition, has a solid “B” rating from the NRA, and the influential lobbying group — which overwhelmingly supports Republicans — declined to weigh in on his 2010 re-election campaign.