Privacy only for gun owners

Section 2716 of the Obama health law bars the government from making doctors or hospitals collect information on who owns a gun. Suddenly this little known provision tucked into page 776 of the law is provoking outrage from gun opponents objecting to the National Rifle Association’s political clout. In truth, the NRA should be applauded for insisting on privacy protections in the Obama health law. If the American Medical Association and patients’ rights groups had fought as hard and successfully as the NRA, all patients would enjoy privacy protections.

Under Obamacare, you don’t have to worry that your gun ownership will be recorded in a national medical database accessible to thousands of eyes. But you do have to worry who will read about your sexual shortcomings, IQ, depression, bouts of alcoholism, mastectomy, family medical history and other things you confidentially tell your doctor.

The Obama health law requires you to enroll in the one-size-fits-all “qualified” health plan, and then gives the federal government unlimited authority over doctors, hospitals and nurses paid by that plan. Section 1311 of the law says that “qualified” insurance plans can pay only those health care providers who follow whatever regulations the Secretary of Health and Human Services imposes to improve “quality.” That could be everything in medicine.

It could mean telling cardiologists when it is appropriate to use a bypass versus a stent or requiring all physicians to ask patients whether they use marijuana.

The Secretary will have control over what your doctor does and what is included in your medical record, even if you are in a plan you paid for yourself.

Worse still, your medical record will become part of a national electronic database. The HITECH Act of 2009 and the Obama health law impose penalties on doctors and hospitals beginning in 2015 that do not use electronic medical records, moving the nation toward a unified database where your health history will be stored in one file.

Electronic medical records have substantial advantages, but the Obama health law contains no privacy protections for anyone except gun owners. Kudos to the NRA for getting what no other group thought to get. In fact, the Obama health law charges the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use patients’ records for research. That compounds the problem of patients losing control over who sees their medical information.

For decades, feminists have fought to prevent government from accessing a woman’s health records or dictating to her doctor. Shockingly, they now support a law that does both.

Going to the doctor can be intrusive and embarrassing. But for your own good, you share a lot of information with a doctor you wouldn’t tell anyone else.

In 2009, when Congress enacted the HITECH Act, the Institute of Medicine warned that the safeguards to protect patient privacy were inadequate. Not much has been accomplished since.  In 2011, the federal government proposed allowing patients to request a report on who had viewed their health records, but after the fact. In November 2012, HHS issued guidelines on how to “de-identify medical records for purposes of research.” That’s a first step.

Anti-gun groups accused the NRA of being “paranoid” for demanding assurances that the federal government would not use the health law to identify who owns guns.  Paranoid?  It’s in the works. The Washington Post reported on December 31 that anti-gun groups are calling for the repeal of Section 2716 to facilitate research and prevention.

Instead of repealing 2716, Congress should act to protect privacy for everyone else. Lawmakers should enact a law barring the federal government from dictating what information doctors and hospitals collect from patients. Medical professionals should never be turned into agents for government purposes.

In addition, after Obamacare, new protections are needed to safeguard the doctor-patient relationship. In the era of electronic medical records, existing laws are woefully insufficient.

Betsy McCaughey is former Lt. Governor of New York State and author of “Beating Obamacare,” published on Jan. 14.