There is much to learn and absorb in the new federal health care regulations under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. The new regulations, part of probably the most comprehensive health care civil rights law in U.S. history, contain changes, new requirements and clarifications of existing federal law.
One of the noteworthy sections refers to Language Access Plans. Such plans, long required by US Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Justice Department in settlement and compliance agreements, essentially inform the who, what, where, when, and how an organization provides language services and assistance.
Section 1557 Requires Written Language Access Plans
According to HHS, the “… development and implementation of a written language access plan is consistent with OCR’s longstanding enforcement processes and resolution agreements.”
The existence and implementation of such plans are also carefully reviewed by courts in discrimination lawsuits. These plans can be the difference between a court slamming an organization with punitive damages for discrimination or a court finding no liability exists. The result is in the plan.
In the new regulations, HHS makes clear how important these plans are by making them part of how an organization proves its compliance with Section 1557 requirements. Please note that HHS will examine whether these plans have been developed and implemented. Just having a plan for the sake of the plan is not enough to comply with the law. As HHS states in the regulations:
“In evaluating whether a covered entity has met its obligation under paragraph (a) of this section, the [HHS OCR] Director shall:
Take into account other relevant factors, including whether a covered entity has developed and implemented an effective written language access plan, that is appropriate to its particular circumstances, to be prepared to meet its obligations in § 92.201(a).”
New Regulation Reinforces Old Requirements
HHS notes that the importance of a “written language access plan has long been recognized as an essential tool to ensure adequate and timely provision of language assistance services, including compliance with the general obligation in § 92.201(a) and the quality standards in § 92.201(d)–(f). For instance, for over 15 years, Executive Order 13166 has required each Federal agency to create and implement a language access plan responsive to the needs of the Limited English Proficient population it serves…”
So, one of the big takeaways from the 100 pages of Section 1557 is The Language Access Plan. Develop your plan, train staff about its contents and their federal legal requirements, and implement the plan ASAP. Taking care of this piece of legal business will save you money, grief, bad publicity and more while improving and enhancing how you care for your patients.
Read some of Bruce Adelson’s other blog posts to learn about more developments in language access law, and be sure to contact us if you’re interested in a consultation about your own organization’s compliance with federal language access law.
© Bruce L. Adelson, special for Bromberg. 2017 All Rights Reserved The material herein is educational and informational only. No legal advice is intended or conveyed.
Bruce L. Adelson, Esq, CEO of Federal Compliance Consulting LLC is nationally recognized for his compliance expertise concerning many federal laws. Mr. Adelson is a former U.S Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Senior Attorney.
Mr. Adelson teaches cultural and civil rights awareness at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.