Obama gun control push leads HHS to change HIPAA rule on background checks

Rule change will enable providers to show the identities of patients subject to a federal mental health prohibitor for gun possession.
By Mike Miliard
03:36 PM

The Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights said it will change the rules so that mental health providers can share data with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, part of a slate of executive actions President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced to help curtail gun violence.

NICS is maintained by the FBI to conduct background checks on people who may be legally disqualified from owning guns.

Specifically, the HIPAA Privacy Rule change will enable mental health providers to show the identities of patients subject to a federal mental health prohibitor that prevents them from shipping, transporting or possessing a firearm, according to OCR.

However, the new rule prohibits mental health providers from sharing any diagnostic or clinical information from medical records or other sources beyond the fact that an person is barred from gun ownership.

An NICS Index record consists of "the name of the ineligible individual; the date of birth; sex; and codes indicating the applicable prohibitor, the submitting entity, and the agency record supporting the prohibition (e.g., an order for involuntary commitment)," according to the rule.

The change comes amid growing concern over access to firearms in the wake of mass shootings like those seen in Newtown, Connecticut, and more recently in San Bernardino, California.

On Tuesday, Obama announced an array of executive actions to address gun violence in the United States, which include overhauling the background check system and enforcing checks and licenses for sales at gun shows and over the Internet; increasing mental health treatment, including a $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care; and directing the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.

"Too many communities across the country are still suffering from the heartbreaking consequences of a gun in the wrong hand," Obama said in a statement. "In the past decade, more than 100,000 people have died as a result of gun violence. Many of these crimes were committed by people who never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place."

Twitter: @mikemiliardHITN