Ending Discrimination in Health Care: New Tools from the Affordable Care Act

Content From: Leon Rodriguez, J.D., Director, Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: September 25, 20133 min read


Leon Rodriguez Leon RodriguezFor far too long, many Americans – including men and women, racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, members of the LGBT community, and individuals with pre-existing conditions like HIV/AIDS, cancer, or mental health concerns – have not received equal access to health care. While health care providers are making great strides in improving the care given to patients by recognizing that language and culture are important – discrimination continues to exist.

Making matters even more challenging are the unique communication needs of America’s diverse population. With nearly 61 million people speaking a language other than English at home, ensuring that patients can access health information and are able to effectively communicate with a doctor or other health care provider is a key component of an inclusive health care system.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is committed to strengthening our Nation’s health care system to ensure full participation by all Americans. The Affordable Care Act advances efforts to reach this goal. At the core, the law helps ensure that all people, particularly low-income individuals and other underserved populations, improve their health and increase their health care and insurance options.

In addition, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act gives HHS a key tool to make sure that all people receive equal access to health care. It is one of the many sections of the Affordable Care Act intended to reduce disparities in the health care system, and is an integral part of the law’s overall goal to expand access to health care for all Americans. This landmark civil rights provision makes it illegal to discriminate against people because of their race, color, national origin, sex (this includes discrimination based on gender identity or the failure to conform to sex stereotypes), age, or disability in most health care settings (such as hospitals or clinics). Section 1557 also applies to the newly created Health Insurance Marketplaces established under the Affordable Care Act. Section 1557 will help ensure that newly eligible individuals have equal access to health care benefits, including health insurance, made possible through the Affordable Care Act. Several presenters at the recent U.S. Conference on AIDS observed that this non-discrimination provision of the health care law will be helpful in addressing some of the continuing stigma and denials of care in health settings experienced by some people living with HIV/AIDS.

Ensuring that all Americans have access to the health care they need is among our highest priorities. But, just because this new law offers more protections from unlawful discrimination, it doesn't mean that patients and health care providers know about them.

HHS Office of Civil Rights Seeks Input to Inform Regulations to Implement Section 1557

To help us better inform patients of their rights and health care professionals of their obligations under this new law, the HHS Office for Civil Rights has published a “Request for Information” to learn more about how you've experienced discrimination in a health care setting, or how your access to health care has been delayed or denied, and what you think we can do to help fix the problems. Your comments will inform us as we draft the regulation that will guide how this law is enforced.

By protecting patients’ rights and expanding access to care, HHS and the Affordable Care Act are leading the way to greater equality, security, and wellness for all Americans. Please give us your comments by September 30, 2013 so that the guidelines that we develop on this important law reflect your real life experiences. (Note: the Call for Comments is available in multiple languages on this page.)

For more information regarding the Request for Information, please contact Carole Brown at 202-619-0805.