This week the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a proposed rule that seeks to restore critical nondiscrimination protections the previous administration rolled back.
Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability in certain health programs and activities. The Trump administration gutted Section 1557’s regulations in several ways, including the elimination of notice and tagline requirements for people with limited English proficiency (LEP). Those language access requirements helped reduce health disparities in communities of color and immigrant communities by ensuring that LEP patients understood medical information and instructions.
The Center for Medicare Advocacy partnered with Justice in Aging in challenging the elimination of those key protections in a lawsuit filed on behalf of two community-based organizations that serve LEP older adults. OCR’s notice of proposed rulemaking cites the lawsuit in its analysis, and states that the proposed rule would “help restore consistency in language assistance procedural requirements and provide certainty to covered entities and consumers about what covered entities’ obligations are and what rights consumers have.”
The proposed rule also affirms protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and expands the scope of the rule to cover more health-related programs and services. After decades of exclusion, it includes Medicare Part B payments in the definition of “federal financial assistance,” expanding the coverage of civil rights protections within the Medicare program.
The Center for Medicare Advocacy applauds this important step in restoring and strengthening vital protections against discrimination in health care. The Center plans to submit its views on the proposed rule during the public comment period. Enforcement of civil rights is essential to creating an equitable health care system, with high quality health care for all. We encourage organizations and individuals to comment on the proposed rule during the 60-day period for written feedback once it is published in the Federal Register.