On May 18, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a new rule under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and sex by managed care programs that receive federal financial assistance from the HHS. As most health care providers receive federal funds through Medicare reimbursements, this new ruling has broad implications.
Affordable Care Act
The ACA, officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. The purpose of the ACA was to increase the quality and affordability of health insurance in the United States, as well as lower the rate of uninsured individuals by expanding public and private insurance coverage.
New Web Accessibility Provisions
This new ruling offers two key provisions that relate to accessible online content:
- Covered entities must make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures to avoid disability-based discrimination, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the health program or activity.
- Covered entities must make electronic and information technology in health programs and activities accessible to people with disabilities, unless doing so would create an undue financial or administrative burden or fundamentally alter the nature of the health program or activity.
Both provisions are rooted in already established regulations relating to disability discrimination (Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act respectively).
Web Accessibility Standard Requirement
Although HHS did not include specific web accessibility standard requirements, it did mention the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA as a suitable option for fulfilling the needs of the new ruling. Effective July 1, 2017, all managed care programs that fall under the purview of the government insurance program Medicaid will be required to comply with “modern accessibility standards,” which includes WCAG standards.