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Government News
M.D.s Won't Face Prison Under Revised Gun Bill
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 10 page 15-15

The Florida legislature has passed what is being called a compromise bill restricting physicians from inquiring about or recording information concerning patient fire-arms ownership.

Civil and criminal penalties contained in the original version of the bill have been removed; however, physicians can still be referred to the Florida Board of Medicine for possible sanctions. The current language in House Bill 155 also allows an exception for physicians asking about gun ownership for "relevance of the information to the patient's medical care or safety or the safety of others." The governor has stated his intention to sign the bill.

The original language of the bill would have allowed doctors to be fined up to $5 million and would have subjected them to up to five years in prison for simply asking a patient about gun possession (Psychiatric News, March 4).

The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Jason Brodeur, cited concerns that under provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—€”the 2010 health care reform law—€”information about gun ownership could end up in the hands of the government or insurance companies and be used against patients. However, a search of the Affordable Care Act finds a clause specifically prohibiting the government from collecting information on gun ownership or insurance companies from charging higher rates based on gun ownership.

The Florida Medical Association originally opposed the bill, but now has expressed satisfaction with the compromise language. In March, Asher Gorelik, M.D., president of the Florida Psychiatric Society (FPS), expressed to Psychiatric News his membership's opposition to the bill, particularly "a great deal of concern about how this law would interfere with the ability of the psychiatrist to properly assess a patient." But in a recent follow-up interview, Gorelik stated that the new language in the bill "no longer interferes with the ability of a psychiatrist to perform a risk assessment."

Gorelik's statement should not, however, be confused with support for the bill by the FPS. Debra Barnett, M.D., the president-elect of the FPS, told Psychiatric News that the district branch's best efforts went into defeating the bill. She said the bill still leaves open questions about who will define harassment. A patient complaint to the medical board concerning a physician asking about gun ownership would put the burden of proof on the physician to show medical relevancy.

Barnett went on to say, however, that the new language in the bill is an improvement. "While we don't support the bill, we support the amended language to mitigate the effects of the bill and how it affects the psychiatric community."

Barnett believes that there are lessons psychiatrists around the country can take from the Florida battle over this bill. She said psychiatrists need to know that similar bills may be coming up in their states, and they may not be able to stop them from passing. It is possible, though, "to work with legislators and plant seeds on issues that affect psychiatrists and mitigate the language to the benefit of both doctors and the patients."

Florida House of Representatives bill 155 is posted at <www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=44993&SessionId=66>. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is posted at <www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111hr3590enr/pdf/BILLS-111hr3590enr.pdf>.15_1.inline-graphic-1.gif

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