HIPAA Rule Change — guns and mental health

I decided to dig through the HIPAA rule change issued by Health and Human Services 2016-01-06. I’ve read a lot of concerns about how your shrink will report you to the FBI, and lots of other crazy ideas. Here are some facts.

This rule doesn’t change who is prohibited from purchasing a firearm. All it does is provide a mechanism whereby health providers who possess knowledge about someone who is prohibited from buying a firearm under existing law may report that information to the FBI’s background check system (NICS). That’s it. Your doctor or shrink cannot report you to NICS for taking antidepressants or other drugs, or even talking about suicide. A “lawful authority” must make a determination that you are mentally incompetent before the information can be reported to NICS. This is purely a bookkeeping rule to help make sure that existing information is reported to NICS.

The rule is published on the HHS Website. Here is the most important bit:

This final rule applies only to covered entities that function as repositories of information relevant to the Federal mental health prohibitor on behalf of a State or that are responsible for ordering the involuntary commitments or other adjudications that make an individual subject to the Federal mental health prohibitor.

And if you’re wondering what the “Federal mental health prohibitor” is:

Among the persons subject to the Federal mental health prohibitor established under the Gun Control Act of 1968 and implementing regulations issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) are individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution; found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity; or otherwise have been determined by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others or to lack the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.

The rule linked to above includes a lot of discussion about the current state of reporting and how the current rule was arrived at. It’s enlightening but dry.