The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has modified the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule so that covered entities can disclose mental health information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for use in background checks. Under the newly amended rule, covered entities may submit mental health information about their patients to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to assist the FBI in determining who's eligible to own a gun and who's not.

Up until now, covered entities have been prohibited from sharing mental health information – or other personal information – about a patient without that patient's written consent. As President Obama prepared to leave office, however, he's made gun control a top priority. With some coercing by the Obama administration, the HHS has revised the HIPPA Privacy Rule to allow covered entities to disclose mental health information about their patients to the FBI.

The purpose of this change is to protect doctors, physicians and other healthcare providers from retaliation for disclosing mental health information. Many covered entities have expressed concern in recent years, fearing that they would be fined or sued for disclosing this type of sensitive information. The new rules protect covered entities from retaliation, however, encouraging them to share certain types of data with the FBI's background system.

It's important to note that covered entities will only be allowed to disclose limited information about patients, including the patient's name and the respective entity. Other information, such as diagnoses, treatments, Social Security numbers, etc., may not be disclosed under the newly revised HIPAA Privacy Rule.

OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels explained that Americans who suffer from mental health disorders are more likely to be victims of a crime than a perpetrator. She goes on to say, however, that just because someone receives treatment for a mental health condition doesn't necessarily prohibit them from purchasing or owning a firearm in the future.

It is important to note that the vast majority of Americans with mental health conditions are not violent and that those with mental illness are in fact more likely to be victims than perpetrators,” said  Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Director Jocelyn Samuels. “An individual who seeks help for mental health conditions and/or receives mental health services is not automatically legally prohibited from having a firearm; nothing in this final rule changes that.”

You can learn more about this change by visiting the HHS website here.

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