Under the HIPAA, health care providers are permitted and/or required under enumerated situations to make disclosures of the protected health information. Such disclosures include disclosures for child abuse, domestic violence, and law enforcement purposes. Disclosure to Medicare/Medicaid, Worker Compensation, medical examiners and the Department of Health and Human Services are on the list, too. And, the list goes on.
There is discussion to allow one more exception to the HIPAA privacy rule. A change to the HIPAA laws that would permit the disclosure of protected health information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The discussion for this extension of what HIPAA permits disclosed is an off shot of the campaign for strengthening gun control laws.
As a sweeping set of the executive actions by President Obama to contribute more names to the NICS list of people barred from buying guns, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) released proposed changes to the HIPAA law that would permit the disclosure of the persons that were involuntary committed to a mental host or have been found to have a serious mental illness by the court to the NICS list of prohibited gun buyers. HHS’s proposed changes have been met with a flood of comments- 2,000 emails. See the Reuters article.
The emails, in part, have been a cry from mental health advocates warning that the changes in HIPAA regulations may result in a patient’s reluctance to seek treatment. Perhaps a bigger question may be privacy. What should patient health information be used for and when should it be disclosed. No matter which way you fall on gun control, this is an important question.
For more information about permitted and required disclosures for legal purposes, request our desk reference sheet.