The AAFP and other health care organizations are calling on HHS to create a provision within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) that would allow states to report the identities of individuals who are barred from buying or owning firearms because of a mental illness to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
In a June 6 letter(1 page PDF) to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the AAFP and five other health care organizations say a proposed rule(www.gpo.gov) creating an express permission provision within HIPAA would serve as a "step toward reducing gun violence" and as a means of improving the NICS, the federal government's background check system for the sale or transfer of firearms by licensed dealers.
"We support creating a permission within HIPAA privacy rules to allow states to report the identities of individuals subject to the mental health prohibitor to the NICS," says the letter, which is signed by the AAFP, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, Doctors for America, and the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
In the letter, the AAFP and the other organizations point out that the mental health prohibitor bars individuals from possessing or receiving firearms if they have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, found incompetent to stand trial or found to be not guilty by reason of insanity. The mental health prohibitor also applies to individuals who are found, through an adjudication process, to have a severe mental condition that presents a danger to themselves or others.
HIPAA's privacy rule has established federal protections to ensure privacy and security of certain health information, making it difficult for states to report the information without a patient's express consent in many instances. In crafting the express permission measure, HHS is considering limiting the disclosed information to minimal data, such as the name of the individual, certain demographic information and the relevant prohibitor.
"We would consider permitting the disclosure of an individual's treatment record or any other clinical or diagnostic information for this purpose," states the proposed rule.
In the letter, the AAFP and the other health care groups praise the proposed rule and HHS for attempting "to address the HIPAA barrier to NICS reporting without discouraging individuals from seeking needed mental health services."