Rules eased on providing mental health records for background checks

Rules eased on providing mental health records for background checks
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The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for people to pass along mental health records for people legally banned from owning a firearm. 

Some health providers, courts and state officials have been hesitant to share records because of strict privacy laws. As a result, the federal background check system, known as the NCIS, has significant gaps on people disqualified from owning guns because of mental illnesses. 

New rules issued Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are intended to make it clear that legal authorities can pass along mental health records that could be valuable in a background check.


The rules from the Obama administration, to be published Tuesday, clarify that only limited information about the patient is shared – only a person’s name and the entity that made the ruling.

“Underlying diagnoses, treatment records, and other identifiable health information are not provided to or maintained by the NICS,” the rule reads.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or found “not guilty” in court by reason of insanity cannot purchase firearms. Every licensed firearms dealer is required to perform a background check of each buyer to determine whether they’re eligible for the purchase.

Those checks are intended to keep out any person who has a history of severe mental illness as judged by a court. The system, however, has been much-criticized for its record-keeping.

Only two-thirds of states require mandatory reporting of mental health records, in part because people have raised concerns about privacy.