Department of Health and Human Services Seeks to Reduce Health Care Disparities

Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities final rule addresses discrimination and seeks to improve language barriers.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule to improve health equity and reduce health disparities.

Under Section 1557, it is prohibited for individuals to be discriminated against in health care based on race, color national origin, age, disability, and sex, including pregnancy, gender identity, and sex stereotyping.

Additionally, the Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities final rule will also enhance language assistance for those who are not proficient in English, while also helping to ensure effective communication with people with disabilities.

This is the first federal civil rights law that broadly prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded health programs.

“A central goal of the Affordable Care Act is to help all Americans access quality, affordable health care,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Today’s announcement is a key step toward realizing equity within our health care system and reaffirms this Administration's commitment to giving every American access to the health care they deserve.”

The final rule prohibits sex discrimination in health care by requiring that women be treated equally with men in the care they receive. Certain types of sex discrimination in insurance, such as women being charged more for coverage than men is also prohibited.

For individuals with disabilities and those not proficient in English, the rule requires covered entities to make electronic information, newly constructed or altered facilities that are accessible to patients with disabilities, and to give appropriate auxiliary aids and services for disabled individuals.

Additionally, covered entities are required to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to people with limited English proficiency, as well as the development of language access plans.

Although the final rule doesn’t resolve whether discrimination of an individual’s sexual orientation status alone is a form of sex discrimination under Section 1557, the rule still states that HHS’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will evaluate all complaints that allege sex discrimination in relation to a person’s sexual orientation.