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HHS Finalizes Rule on Discrimination

By Erin Mershon, CQ Roll Call

May 13, 2016 -- The Obama administration on Friday finalized a regulation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded health programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare.

The rule prohibits discrimination based on sex, including gender identity, sex stereotyping and pregnancy. It implements Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. Previously, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) only enforced laws against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, and disability.

The rule will prohibit insurers participating in the insurance marketplaces from marketing practices or benefit designs that discriminate on those characteristics, and will outlaw discriminatory practices by hospitals and doctors that participate in federal programs. Other provisions of the health law keep insurers from charging women more for insurance than men, but this is the first time requirements prohibiting gender discrimination will apply to providers.

The rule also includes provisions that will require providers and insurers to make their websites and any new facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities, and to provide auxiliary aids for those with disabilities. They are also required to take reasonable steps to assist individuals with limited English proficiency.

Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell called the rule a "key step toward realizing equity within our health care system" and said it "reaffirms this Administration's commitment to giving every American access to the health care they deserve."

The provisions will be enforced by the HHS Office of Civil Rights.

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