In the past year, the debate over gun control has been on the minds of plenty of Americans, following the several shootings at schools across the nation. Linked with that has been the discussion on mental health and providing the proper services to people who require them.
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in an effort to decrease gun violence in the United States. The notice aims to remove legal barriers that prevents states from reporting certain information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
The NICS prevents guns from being sold to those who aren’t legally permitted to have them, such as felons, perpetrators of domestic violence, and people with psychiatric issues who were involuntarily committed to a mental institution. “To date, background checks [of the NICS] have prevented over two million guns from falling into the wrong hands,” an HHS report states. But without the proper information, the NCIS background check isn’t effective. Currently, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rule, which ensures the privacy of individuals for medical matters, prevents states from reporting particular information, such as medical and mental health information, to NCIS. Thus, many people may have slipped through the cracks on background checks.
“There is a strong public safety need for this information to be accessible to the NICS, and some states are currently under-reporting or not reporting certain information to the NICS at all,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the HHS release. “This proposed rulemaking is carefully balanced to protect and preserve individuals’ privacy interests, the patient-provider relationship, and the public’s health and safety.”
The wheels were put into motion for this proposed rule back in the spring of last year, when the HHS department requested the American public to provide input on HIPAA’s effect on states providing important information to the NICS for background checks. Some 2,000 comments poured in from state agencies, health care providers, consumer advocacy groups, and other individuals. Now, states will be able to disclose to the NICS the identities of people who have issues with mental health: “[C]ertain covered entities would be permitted to disclose 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 HHS report states.
Obama has claimed to make mental health and gun control a priority. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website lists Obama’s gun-control proposals, which include the background checks, removing barriers under HIPAA, providing states with financial incentives to share information on people with criminal and mental illness backgrounds, launch a national gun safety campaign, and assist schools in investing in safety. Lastly, the list reaches mental health and improving awareness through teacher training.