In anticipation of developing its rule to implement the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health plan nondiscrimination provisions, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a request for information (RFI) from interested parties.  Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs and activities. It directs the HHS to promulgate rules to implement this nondiscrimination provision. To this end, the agency is soliciting input from individuals, the legal community, healthcare agencies, providers and insurers, and any other stakeholders affected by Section 1557. The RFI seeks information on several topics “to better understand individuals’ experiences with discrimination in health programs or activities and covered entities’ experiences in complying with federal civil rights laws.”

The HHS acknowledges that Section 1557 not only “builds on a landscape of existing civil rights laws,” but is the first federal civil rights statute that prohibits sex discrimination in health programs and activities of covered entities, and is the first such federal law “incorporating the grounds prohibited by four distinct civil rights statutes.”

The RFI’s questions fall into the following topics: understanding the current landscape; ensuring access to health programs and activities; and compliance and enforcement approaches. Responses to the RFI’s inquiries are due within 60 days of the RFI’s publication in the Federal Register, scheduled for August 1, 2013. Comments may be submitted through the federal eRulemaking portal, or mailed (original and two copies) to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights, Attention: 1557 RFI (RIN 0945-AA02), Hubert H. Humphrey Building, Room 509F, 200 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20201.

According to the HHS’s spring regulatory agenda, the agency plans to issue a proposed rule on Section 1557by the end of this year.