Last May, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule implementing  Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which makes it unlawful for any health care provider who receives funding from the federal government to refuse to treat an individual—or to otherwise discriminate against the individual—based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. The final rule also enhances language assistance for people with limited English proficiency and helps to ensure effective communication for individuals with disabilities.
The North Carolina Medical Society (NCMS) Solution Center has been fielding inquiries on this rule and collecting useful links on the OCR site to help answer your questions. Watch the Bulletin for updates on these resources and others. The AMA also organized a conference call on Tuesday with HHS Director of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), Jocelyn Samuels, to brief medical and specialty societies on the rule and answer questions on what physicians’ legal obligations are.
The most immediate requirement takes effect on Oct. 17. On this date practices receiving federal funds from HHS must begin to “conspicuously” publicize the notice of nondiscrimination, which describes the practices’ obligations under the rule and a patients’ rights in English as well as the top 15 languages spoken in the state. Here is an explanation of what is required along with copies of the notice in the various languages. More information as well as answers to frequently asked questions are available on the Office of Civil Rights website here.
On language accommodations, Samuels stressed that the obligations are highly individualized. “If you’re in a small, rural practice with few non-English speakers, the requirements [for your language access plan] are going to be less,” she said. The OCR is encouraging practices to think about what they are likely to encounter as far as language interpretation services and come up with a plan for how to respond to those potential needs.
More information on the rule for health care professionals is available here. Or email our NCMS Solution Center coordinator Belinda McKoy with your question at [email protected].