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HHS Finalizes Rule Protecting Patients From Discrimination on Sex

The Department of Health and Human Services on Friday finalized a rule aimed at protecting patients from discrimination based on race, sex and other stereotyping, as well as helping people with limited English-speaking abilities or disabilities to access care.

The rule implements a section of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally-funded health care programs. It requires that women be treated as equally as men in the care they receive, such as saying they cannot be charged more than men for coverage, and says someone cannot be denied care or coverage based on their sex.

Before the 2010 law, civil rights laws barred discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability or age.

“A central goal of the Affordable Care Act is to help all Americans access quality, affordable health care,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is a key step toward realizing equity within our health care system and reaffirms this Administration’s commitment to giving every American access to the health care they deserve.”

Additionally, the rule says information and facilities must be accessible for people with disabilities and that covered entities “take reasonable steps” to provide access to people with limited ability to speak English.

Not in the rule, HHS notes in a release, is whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is covered under the applicable section of the ACA. “HHS supports prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination as a matter of policy and will continue to monitor legal developments on this issue,” the agency says.