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In May 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the final rule implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities.
The final rule aims to expand access to health care and coverage and reduce health disparities by enhancing language assistance for individuals with limited English proficiency* and protecting individuals with disabilities.
*The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) defines “an individual with limited English proficiency” as a person whose primary language for communication is not English and who has a limited ability to read, write, speak or understand English
Additionally, covered entities with 15 or more employees are required to have a grievance procedure and a compliance coordinator.
Covered entities must provide auxiliary aids and services — such as qualified sign language interpreters and video remote interpreting services — to individuals with disabilities free of charge and in a timely manner.
The new regulations of the final rule took effect on July 18, 2016 (60 days after its publication in the Federal Register), however, to give covered entities adequate time to come into compliance, certain parts of the rule have a delayed applicability date:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Section 1557. Covered entities that violate Section 1557 will be required to take corrective actions — such as revising policies and procedures, providing training and implementing programs for monitoring compliance. Covered entities may also be required to pay compensatory damages to individuals proven to be victims of discrimination.
Where noncompliance cannot be corrected by informal means, OCR may suspend, terminate, or refuse to grant or continue Federal financial assistance.