The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) earlier this year issued final regulations implementing a provision (Section 1557) of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs and activities. Most notably, Sec. 1557 is the first federal civil rights law to broadly prohibit sex discrimination in health programs and activities.
By Oct. 17, 2016, physicians and other covered entities must take “appropriate initial and continuing steps” to notify patients of the following:
- the covered entity does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in its health programs and activities;
- the covered entity provides appropriate auxiliary aids and services to individuals with disabilities;
- the covered entity provides language assistance services;
- how to obtain the aids and services noted above;
- the identification and contact of a responsible employee (required only for a covered entity with 15 or more employees);
- the availability of grievance procedures;
- how to file a discrimination complaint.
This final rule applies to any individual or entity that provides or administers health-related services or insurance coverage and receives “federal financial assistance.”
While federal financial assistance is defined as including Medicare and Medicaid, it does not include Medicare Part B. Most physicians, even with the Part B exclusion, would be implicated under the new regulations. Regulations would also apply to physicians who currently receive payments under Medicaid, the electronic health record “meaningful use” program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). In addition to these financial arrangements, other examples of financial assistance include HHS grants and gain-sharing demonstration projects.