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A Vote For Health Care, A Vote Against Gun Rights?

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A Vote For Health Care, A Vote Against Gun Rights?

Health Care

A Vote For Health Care, A Vote Against Gun Rights?

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We've been talking for months about all the issues surrounding President Obama's push to overhaul the health care system. Could be we'll be talking for months more. But here's one issue you might not have thought about until now. A gun rights group claims the proposed Senate health care bill is bad for gun owners. Yesterday, the White House responded. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer put a post on the blog. He said he's amazed that after so many months of health insurance debate, a new attack can still surprise him.

In this case, the surprise came just before the Senate's test vote on health care last Saturday night. A group called the Gun Owners of America sent letters to all senators saying a vote for the bill was a vote against gun rights. Erich Pratt is the group's communications director. He says health care has lots of big issues, such as costs and mandates.

Mr. ERICH PRATT (Gun Owners of America): And that has been such a huge part of the debate that there's been little room for anything else. But I do think these other points now start sifting into the debate.

OVERBY: Other point number one: The Gun Owners of America challenges the idea of electronic health records. It says bad information from mental health records will infect the FBI's instant check database, causing interference when people want to buy firearms. As Pratt put it...

Mr. PRATT: Every medical record will be fed into a government medical database that was created under the stimulus bill. And that information can be forwarded to the Brady background check system.

OVERBY: That might give pause to some people, except for one thing.

Dr. DAVID BLUMENTHAL (National Coordinator for Health Information Technology): It's not true. There is no such database and no plan to create one.

OVERBY: That's Dr. David Blumenthal. He's in charge of the administration's initiative on electronic health records. He says a unified database of medical records is far beyond the government's technology and budget. And besides...

Dr. BLUMENTHAL: We don't want to do it, and it's not authorized. We don't just do things without the Congress permitting us to do them.

OVERBY: Other point number two from the Gun Owners: The health care bill would encourage employers and insurers to set up programs for healthy lifestyle support and it would let them charge more, as much as 30 percent more, if people are living unhealthy lives. Again, Erich Pratt.

Mr. PRATT: We fully expect an anti-gun administration like the Obama administration to want to add that having a gun-free home is supposedly healthier.

OVERBY: He points out that the bill doesn't define these healthy lifestyles and neither does it carefully explain who does get to define them. On this one, the Gun Owners of America has allies. Across the spectrum, groups are concerned about the notion of companies having financial incentives for determining how people live their lives. Karen Pollitz is a research professor on health policy at Georgetown University.

Professor KAREN POLLITZ (Georgetown University): Now, if people stay in bad relationships that make them depressed, is that a healthy behavior? You know, sort of where can the employer be limited in terms of ability to look into your personal lifestyles. And suppose the gun ownership would be kind of down that slippery slope.

OVERBY: Pratt says it's possible his group's concerns could be addressed.

Mr. PRATT: Certainly if there were specific language to allay our concerns, that would remover ability to be able to discuss this legislation.

OVERBY: But he's not expecting that to happen. His group has told its members it's looking to see which states are the best bets to recall their senators. That may be tough. The Constitution has no provision for senators to be recalled.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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