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Health Equity Rule Issued under the Affordable Care Act

By on June 20, 2016 in Affordable Care Act with 0 Comments

On May 13, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights issued a Final Rule implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Entities subject to the rule are: (1) entities operating a health program or activity, any part of which receives federal financial assistance; (2) entities established under Title I of the ACA (e.g. state-based marketplaces); and (3) health programs or activities conducted by HHS.

HHS notes that the Final Rule is the first federal civil rights law to broadly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded health programs. Sex discrimination includes discrimination based on pregnancy, gender identity, and sex stereotyping. Notably, the Final Rule requires covered entities to treat individuals consistent with their gender identity, including with regard to access to facilities. However, the Rule does not indicate whether discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited under Section 1557.

The Final Rule requires covered entities to take appropriate initial and continuing steps to notify beneficiaries, applicants, and members of the public that they are to provide language assistance services, including translated documents and oral interpretation, free of charge and in a timely manner, when such services are necessary to provide meaningful access to individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). Covered entities may not require an LEP individual to provide her own interpreter and cannot rely on accompanying bilingual individuals to facilitate communication except in emergency situations.

Most of the requirements have a July 18, 2016 effective date with the exception of provisions affecting health insurance or group health plan benefit design, which will take effect on the first day of the first plan year beginning on or after January 1, 2017. HHS estimates that the regulations will affect roughly 900,000 physicians and 133,343 health care facilities. Facilities and practitioners in receipt of federal financial assistance should consult with a qualified regulatory attorney to ensure that they meet the Final Rule’s new requirements by the prescribed deadlines.

 

Questions regarding this article may be sent to Publications@Capehart.com.

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