Texas lawmakers are considering a bill that would keep a person’s gun ownership status from being listed in their medical records, a move health providers worry would be an unnecessary government intrusion that harms their consultations with patients.
The bill would make Texas at least the second state to enact similar restrictions, following a 2011 Florida law on hold because of legal challenges.
Proponents of the Texas legislation say it’s narrowly crafted to avoid infringing on medical care while also preventing government agencies from accessing the information. Critics say the proposal would only hamper the open discussion of patient health and has no practical use. They also note that medical privacy laws offer protections for a patient’s personal information and government agencies already track gun ownership data.
“I don’t like government moving into my exam room, in any capacity,” said Doug Curran, a family doctor in Athens, southeast of Dallas, who’s on the board of the Texas Medical Association. “The exam room is sacred.”
Republican state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a surgeon from Kaufman in North Texas, submitted the bill after hearing concerns from constituents who were alarmed at being asked during health consultations whether they own guns, said Spitzer’s chief of staff, Robert Shulter.
“They don’t consider it to be medically relevant to their condition,” Shulter said.
He said the bill takes no issue with a doctor putting in the record that they discussed firearms. The problem is identifying a patient as a gun owner. Shulter said revelations that the National Security Agency is collecting Americans’ phone records and intrusive practices by other government agencies show that the potential for abuse exists.
“We just don’t want it going into electronic medical records that could be accessed by other government entities,” he said. “It’s basically to protect patient privacy.”
The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 offers various privacy protections for patients, such as allowing people to check what’s included in their records and learning who has requested access to their records. Patients also have the option of declining to answer a doctor’s question they deem too personal.
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