Feds ask for mental health clarifications in light of HIPAA rules

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The federal government is asking how changes for HIPAA rules might impact states reporting information about patients' mental health conditions, and whether they  should be allowed to purchase a gun.

The concern is that states are not reporting information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System because of federal privacy regulations. The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights sent an advance notice of proposed rulemaking  (APRM) that was to appear in today's Federal Register.

“Federal law does not require State agencies to report to the NICS the identities of individuals who are prohibited by Federal law from purchasing firearms, and not all states report complete information to the NICS. Therefore, the NICS Index does not include information about all individuals who are subject to one or more of the prohibited categories,” the document states.

Questions for providers include, “If the HIPAA Privacy Rule were to be amended to expressly permit disclosures of the identities of individuals covered by the mental health prohibitor to the NICS Index, would you still face any barriers to reporting?”

In addition to occasional mass gun-related violence incidents in nursing homes, such as the Pinelake shooting of 2009, long-term care facilities occasionally experience murder-suicides of couples, such as a case in Denver in 2012 and in Maryland in 2013.