Healthcare providers and others who receive federal financial assistance are now subject to new non-discrimination rules and notice requirements under the Affordable Care Act. The new regulation prohibits discrimination in healthcare programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability and sex – including pregnancy, gender identity, and sex stereotyping. The new rule also encompasses the obligation to provide language assistance services free of charge to persons with limited English proficiency.

The regulation implementing Section 1557 of the ACA went into effect on July 18, 2016, and was issued to educate consumers about their rights and help covered entities understand their non-discrimination obligations. The new regulation builds on existing Federal civil rights law as to discrimination, and imposes additional requirements for covered entities to achieve the ACA’s goals of expanding access to health care and coverage, eliminating barriers, and reducing health disparities. All health programs that receive federal financial assistance — including hospitals, nursing homes, physician practices, rehabilitation centers, health insurance issuers and state Medicaid agencies — must comply.

Beginning on October 17, 2016, covered entities will be required to post Notices of Non-discrimination and Taglines translated into 15 languages that alert individuals with limited English proficiency to the availability of free language assistance services.

Covered entities with 15 or more employees are now required to have a grievance procedure and a compliance coordinator.

The HHS Office of Civil Rights, which enforces Section 1557, has urged covered entities to conduct employee trainings on Section 1557 compliance, particularly those employees who have regular interaction with the public and direct contact with patients, clients, and their companions. Compliance managers should also be well educated about the regulation and understand it well enough to make assessments of how their covered entities will promote compliance.

The OCR has added a number of resources to its website to assist covered entities in their efforts to remain compliant. While these resources are available, providers affected by Section 1557 and the Final Rule should still engage knowledgeable counsel to guide them through the regulation and help ensure that they remain compliant with Section 1557 requirements.