“Any regulatory change wouldn’t require congressional approval.” That’s the word from the spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), an agency created by the framers of the United States Constitution to fulfill Americans’ constitutional right to health care. Not. One wonders what said Founding Fathers would make of a federal fiat that forces state mental-health authorities to “transmit records of anyone who has been declared mentally unfit by a court or other authority to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” You know; so they can be permanently disqualified from firearms purchases. Without due process. Without an appeals system. Hello? Did I wake up in Soviet Russia this morning? The thing is . . .
Like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (and Really Big Fires) the HHS considers the law of the land a relatively minor impediment to their sacred work of protecting the public from disease, death and yes, terrorism. In this case, the HHS is raising a middle finger to the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.
Or is it? If you thought the Act protected your health records from government
spying investigation, I don’t think HIPAA means what you think it means. Check out this description of HIPPA’s Privacy Rule from the Centers for Disease Control.
The new regulations provide protection for the privacy of certain individually identifiable health data, referred to as protected health information (PHI). Balancing the protection of individual health information with the need to protect public health, the Privacy Rule expressly permits disclosures without individual authorization to public health authorities authorized by law to collect or receive the information for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury, or disability, including but not limited to public health surveillance, investigation, and intervention.
Public health practice often requires the acquisition, use, and exchange of PHI to perform public health activities (e.g., public health surveillance, program evaluation, terrorism preparedness, outbreak investigations, direct health services, and public health research). Such information enables public health authorities to implement mandated activities (e.g., identifying, monitoring, and responding to death, disease, and disability among populations) and accomplish public health objectives. Public health authorities have a long history of respecting the confidentiality of PHI, and the majority of states as well as the federal government have laws that govern the use of, and serve to protect, identifiable information collected by public health authorities.
See how easy that is? We need your mental health medical records to protect the public. Now give us the damn records so we can stop people who’ve been committed (i.e. treated) for mental illness from purchasing firearms. Or getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Or openly carrying a gun. Or possessing a firearm. Or living with someone who possess a firearm.
Once again, we can see that government is the problem, not the solution. Well I can see it. And so can the mental health care industry, which is savvy enough to view the records transfer as counterproductive.
The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, the representative for state mental-health agencies, said in a June 7 letter to HHS that the proposal would only serve “to exacerbate the stigma faced by people with mental illnesses and could potentially have a significant chilling effect” on their resolve to seek help.
The American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association,and the American Psychological Association expressed similar reservations in separate letters. All are the largest professional organizations in their respective fields.
Federal gun laws prohibit dealers from selling guns to people deemed be “mentally defective.” But few states have contributed the mental-health records needed to make that prohibition meaningful.
“Meaningful.” Where’s the evidence that adding the names of mentally ill people to the FBI’s NICS system will do anything to reduce killing sprees? Lest we forget, Adam Lanza shot his mother in the head, twice, to gain access to her legall purchased firearms.
We’d do well to heed the medical professionals’ [implied] prediction that the new regulation could drive madmen underground, away from treatment, creating more deadly armed attacks. And that’s not the worst of it . . .
At the risk of evoking Godwin’s Law, it’s worth noting that the Nazis “warmed-up” for their mass extermination campaign by sterilizing and then euthanizing the mentally ill. [NB: the U.S. forcibly sterilized mental patients before the Germans as part of America’s fascination with eugenics.] Of course all of these victims were disarmed before they were mutilated and murdered. Now what does that tell you?
It tells me that if ever there was a glide path down a slippery slope to a place my father barely survived, this forthcoming HHS ruling is it. But then, that’s just me. Right?