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This is why Section 1557's Language Access Rules Must be Preserved

One incremental improvement can pave the way for significant change.

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one such improvement. The law seeks to reduce healthcare disparities by requiring covered health programs and activities to offer meaningful access to care to all patients. Under this provision, individuals with limited English proficiency, as well as individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, benefit from enhanced and more accessible language assistance services.

Of course, a legislative change reshaping the healthcare industry could trickle down and affect some of the protections guaranteed in Section 1557, which took effect in October of 2016. But Section 1557’s protections, especially language access, are vital to every corner of the country. One major reason why: Population change.

Section 1557's language access requirements, worth preserving

What do Maricopa County (Arizona), King County (Washington), and Orange County (Florida) all have in common? People are calling these communities home faster than most other counties in the United States--all three rank in the top 10 largest gaining counties for population growth.

Recent U.S. Census data reveals domestic migration and immigration are changing the demographics of communities across the country.

For example, Arabic is the fastest growing language in the United States (a 29.2 percent increase from 2010 to 2014), and is now the seventh most commonly spoken non-English language in the United States. GLOBO is based in Pennsylvania, and the Arab American population is growing quickly within the state, up 42 percent from 2010; other states with fast growing Arab American populations include Arkansas (+101 percent), Tennessee (+84 percent) and Nevada (+74 percent).

Healthcare systems and facilities see this reality everyday, as limited-English-speaking patients come in for routine checkups, preventative procedures and emergency room visits. As more non-English speakers migrate to the United States and the population becomes more diverse, healthcare systems must be prepared to provide meaningful access to care for their limited-English patients.

That’s why Section 1557’s language access rules are vital--the demographics of communities continue to change and doctors and nurses must be able to communicate with their patients. Every year providers will see new patients speaking languages that they are unfamiliar with. Implementing access to quality language support will ensure that they can do their jobs.

Section 1557's language access requirements, outlined

Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in health programs and activities.

As it stands, healthcare providers and insurers receiving federal financial assistance (excluding Medicare Part B) from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must comply with Section 1557. That’s also true for programs created by the ACA and administered by the HHS. These entities must take reasonable steps to provide “meaningful access” to care and coverage for individuals who are Limited English Proficient.

To meet the language access requirements under Section 1557, covered entities must provide:

Section 1557's language access requirements, the future

To be frank, there's still a great deal of uncertainty around the future of Section 1557 and the ACA. But there are at least two things we can count on:

  1. As the U.S. population grows, it becomes more diverse. Health systems must provide their limited-English-speaking patients with meaningful access to care by offering language services--no matter the fate of the ACA and Section 1557. Effective doctor-patient communication improves quality of care by cutting the risk of adverse medical effects stemming from language barriers, and ultimately creates better health outcomes.
  2. The patient-centered care model is here to stay. Patient-centered care shifts the focus from doctor-centric to patient-centric, ensuring patients' preferences, needs, and values are considered at every step of the continuum of care. Clear communication is essential to patient-centered care, as patients are empowered to be a decision maker in their care plan.

Section 1557 guarantees protections to limited-English patients that are vital to the future of healthcare. In just a few short years when the 2020 Census is released, we will be reminded again that these protections must be permanent.

The languages spoken in your community

Do you know what they are? With population data, you can observe population trends and gain a better understanding of your linguistically diverse patient pool. Find out what other data your language services provider should offer you.  

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