May 13, 2016

WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published the final regulation implementing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Section 1557 civil rights provision. As a national health justice organization that advocates for the rights of all persons to access the health care they need, the Asian & Pacific Islander Health Forum (APIAHF) released the following statement of support. Section 1557 is an important legal protection in health care for all Americans and prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in any health program or activity receiving federal assistance, any program or activity administered by a federal agency, and the health insurance Marketplaces.

“The final rule implementing Section 1557 strengthens long-standing civil rights protections in health care,” said Kathy Ko Chin, APIAHF president and CEO. “Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, our nation has recognized the need and importance of protecting civil rights in our society, and particularly their impact in access to health care. As the civil rights prong of the ACA, Section 1557 does just that. The rule takes needed steps to protect all Americans and helps to ensure that language barriers do not stand in the way of access to care. Section 1557 is an achievement for health equity for all and we look forward to robust enforcement.”

Section 1557 builds on civil rights protections for language access under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin, which includes language access. Language access is crucial for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders as one-third of Asian Americans are limited English proficient and 60 percent of the community are immigrants. Language access touches the lives of millions of Americans, 25 million of whom are limited English proficient (LEP), meaning they speak very little English or none at all.

The rule includes the long-standing principle that entities subject to the rule (such as the Marketplace, HHS, Medicaid agencies, hospitals, health insurers, and many others) must take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access for LEP persons. For example, the rule requires that covered entities post taglines notifying persons of their rights in at least the top 15 non-English languages spoken in the State and has provided sample taglines in 64 languages.

Importantly, the rule includes robust protections beyond language access and helps to ensure that a person cannot be denied health care or coverage because of their race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. Section 1557 is the first civil rights law to prohibit sex discrimination in health care. While the rule does not explicitly include a protection on the basis of sexual orientation as civil rights groups advocated for, the rule is crucial to addressing barriers that LGBT people experience. The rule protects lesbian, gay and bisexual people on the basis of sex stereotypes and protects transgender people on the basis of gender identity.

To learn more about civil rights protections or to file a complaint, visit the Office for Civil Rights at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/. Translated materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/section-1557/translated-resources/index.html.