White House administration modifies HIPAA as part of gun control effort

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President Barack Obama's gun control initiative will lead to a modification of the HIPAA Privacy Rule to allow certain covered entities to disclose to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) the identities of those individuals who, for specific mental health reasons, already are prohibited by federal law from having a firearm.

The information that can be disclosed is the minimum necessary identifying information about individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or otherwise have been determined by a lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others or to lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs. The Department of Health and Human Services announced that the new modification will preserve the the patient-provider relationship and ensure that individuals are not discouraged from seeking voluntary treatment.

This rule applies only to a small subset of HIPAA covered entities that either make the mental health determinations that disqualify individuals from having a firearm or are designated by their states to report this information to NICS. It also allows these entities to report only limited identifying, non-clinical information to the NICS. Announcement