I recently had the privilege of moderating a highly informative webinar on the latest changes to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Our speaker, Mara Youdelman from the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), provided in-depth insight into these critical updates. Here are the five key highlights from our discussion:

Understanding Section 1557 and Its Importance

Section 1557 of the ACA is a significant non-discrimination provision that reinforces protections against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability in health programs and activities. This section integrates and strengthens pre-existing civil rights laws, ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their background, have equal access to healthcare services. One notable aspect of the final rule is its explicit prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, emphasizing the need for inclusive healthcare practices.

New Definitions and Requirements for Language Access

The updated regulations introduce several definitions that are crucial for language access. These include qualified interpreters, qualified translators, and machine translation requirements. Specifically, any critical document or communication requiring accuracy must not rely solely on machine translation; human oversight is essential to ensure accuracy and prevent errors. This is vital for providing meaningful access to healthcare for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).

Policies, Procedures, and Training

Covered entities must develop and implement comprehensive policies and procedures to comply with Section 1557. This includes non-discrimination policies, grievance procedures, and specific language access procedures. Additionally, entities with 15 or more employees are required to designate a Section 1557 coordinator to oversee compliance. Documented training of relevant staff is also mandatory, ensuring that employees are aware of the civil rights policies, procedures and protections for patients under Section 1557’s final rule.

The Role of Technology in Compliance

One of the significant updates in the final rule is the regulation of machine translation and artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. Machine translation can only be used for non-critical communications unless reviewed by a human translator. Moreover, AI tools used in patient care decisions must not discriminate based on the protected classes covered by Section 1557. This regulation aims to prevent technology from inadvertently perpetuating bias to ensuring ensure equitable treatment in healthcare.

Enforcement and Compliance Deadlines

The final rule outlines enforcement mechanisms and compliance deadlines. Most provisions will take effect on July 5, 2024, with additional deadlines extending into 2025 for specific requirements, such as the designation of a Section 1557 coordinator and the development of detailed policies and procedures. Covered entities must be proactive in adopting these changes to avoid non-compliance penalties and ensure they provide equitable healthcare services.

Final Thoughts

Navigating the updates to Section 1557 is essential for healthcare providers to ensure they are compliant and providing inclusive, non-discriminatory care. The detailed information shared by Mara in our webinar is a valuable resource for any organization looking to understand and implement these changes effectively.

We invite you to view the full webinar here.

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