President Obama is increasing up efforts to minimize gun violence; however some legal obstacles remain and the HIPAA Privacy Rule is currently obstructing the reporting of important information to the National Criminal Background Check System.
The NCBC allows gun vendors to carry out security checks to find out if a prospective gun owner is legally entitled to purchase a firearm. While everyone has a right to bear arms, federal law restricts gun ownership and certain people – convicted felons and people who have been previously involuntarily committed to a mental health institution for example – are not allowed to own weapons.
The system allows speedy checks to be conducted and while the database is maintained with details of criminal convictions, important health information is often not given due to restrictions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The system has proved effective so far and has stopped the sale of over 2 million weapons; however it is only as good as the data included and there appears to be a lack of information relating to mental health, according to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report.
The report showed that while information is being added to the NCBC system, it found that 17 states had only uploaded the details of 10 people who were prohibited from owning weapons due to mental health problems. Following on from the release of the report, much of the missing data has been received but there are clearly still legislative stumbling blocks that need to be taken away.
The Department of Health and Human Services has now begun a process to ensure privacy is protected, while essential information is given to the NCBC to prevent firearms from being sold to ineligible individuals. In April last year, an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published on the HHS website requesting feedback from the public. After receiving over 2,000 answers from care groups, consumer advocacy groups, healthcare providers and others, the final Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has now been released.
The change does not affect any person who has experienced from mental health issues in the past or is even currently seeking help and treatment. This information will still remain secure from prying eyes. The change permits HIPAA covered entities to report cases of involuntary treatment for mental health and restricts the amount of data can be released.
The change does no tallow clinical, medical or diagnostic information to be disclosed; only the minimum possible data to allow identification of an person that has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or is deemed to be a danger to themselves or the public. People who lack the mental capacity to competently manage their own affairs will also have some data supplied to the NCBC. The change will not make it mandatory to report these matters, only that reporting this information is now allowed under HIPAA regulations.