News in brief

New HHS nondiscrimination requirements start Sunday, Oct. 16

Physicians must inform patients with limited English proficiency that language assistance is available, among other requirements.


If you or your practice receive payments from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), such as Medicaid payments or payments as part of the Medicare EHR Meaningful Use incentive program, new requirements starting Oct. 16, 2016, will impact you.

If you don’t receive these payments, or only receive HHS funds through Medicare Part B, you are excluded from the nondiscrimination requirements. The new requirements fall under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in federal health programs or activities. Here’s a closer look.

What’s required?

Under the new requirements that start on October 16, 2016, physicians must:

  • File a compliance form with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, if you haven’t done so already.
  • Be sure the following info is posted prominently and conspicuously in your office, on your website and in significant publications:

    • Taglines letting patients know that language assistance is available for the top 15 languages spoken by individuals with limited English proficiency in your state. List all 15 languages in your office and online; in publications such as brochures or postcards, it’s ok to list just the top two languages.
    • Notification of compliance to your employees, patients, health plan enrollees, and the public. HHS has a sample notification of a nondiscrimination statement on its website. The notification must be displayed prominently on all significant communications and enrollment materials, as well as within the organization’s physical location and on its website.
  • If your practice has 15 or more employees, you must also appoint an individual responsible for compliance under Section 1557 and establish a grievance procedure for individuals who feel their rights have been violated. There’s a sample grievance procedure on the HHS website.
  • Take reasonable steps to ensure that your patients with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to translated resources and a qualified interpreter. Such steps can include providing translated materials and/or language assistance services. Any language assistance services must be free of charge to the patient. HHS’ Office of Civil Rights will consider potential violations of this requirement on a case-by-case basis, and therefore are unable to provide illustrative examples.
  • HHS strongly encourages practices to proactively establish a language plan for such patients. The language plan might include contact information for language assistance services or interpreters, as well as commonly used documents translated in multiple languages. Creating a language plan is optional, but HHS will take into account whether a practice has such a plan when considering enforcement mechanisms.

Learn more

The HHS Office for Civil Rights has created training materials to help supplement covered entities’ trainings on their internal policies and procedures that are now required under Section 1557.

One comment

  1. Arik

    All healthcare professionals should have phone interpreters for limited English speaking patients. The regulation has in mind not to discriminate at the point of treatment. However, many of the individuals may need to make a telephone appointment to a healthcare professional that does not speak their language. Other scenarios are follow up after diagnosis or treatment by phone. So far many healthcare professionals have neglected to consider the wider scope when someone may need an interpreter by phone.

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