The Department of Health and Human Services has released final rules implementing the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination protections, clarifying and expanding on the obligations of health care providers to accommodate patients with disabilities.
Passed in 2010, the ACA bars health care providers with 15 or more employees from discriminating on the “basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability and sex, including discrimination based on pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping.”
As to disability discrimination, the regulations, proposed in September 2015 and issued May 13, focus on the obligations of providers to provide effective communication [PDF].
Specifically, the regulations clarify that providers must ensure that its communications are “as effective as” those provided to others. This standard is identical to the that of the Department of Justice’s existing regulations for state and local governments, as opposed to to the lower standard for most businesses and other places of public accommodation.
New and altered facilities are required to come into compliance with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Electronic and information technology must be made accessible.
Although the HHS has accepted anti-discrimination complaints under the ACA since the law’s passage, the new regulations provide far more guidance on how the law’s mandate should be interpreted. It also streamlines the law with existing protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
“A central goal of the Affordable Care Act is to help all Americans access quality, affordable health care,” HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said in a news release. “Today’s announcement is a key step toward realizing equity within our health care system and reaffirms this Administration’s commitment to giving every American access to the health care they deserve.”
The regulations also provide substantial new obligations for transgender individuals and people with limited English proficiency, as further detailed in Health Affairs.
“These life-changing protections will have a profound impact on the health and well-being of millions of people in the country,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a news release.
The rule goes into effect July 18.
A HHS “Frequently Asked Questions” page about the new regulations can be read here [PDF].