HHS, DOJ Issue Guidance to Eliminate Telehealth Discrimination

HHS, DOJ Issue Guidance to Eliminate Telehealth Discrimination


The federal agencies’ guidance provides examples of discrimination during telehealth visits and actions to ensure virtual care remains accessible to all.

 In honor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) anniversary, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) worked with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to publish new guidance that seeks to eliminate discrimination in the telehealth arena.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by rapid expansions in healthcare access, particularly through the use of telehealth. Although telehealth is a valuable resource, discrimination does exist, leading to barriers to care. For example, research has shown that racial minorities, older age groups, and those living in rural areas use telehealth less frequently than their counterparts, and the digital divide further exacerbates disparities in virtual care access.

As 2022 marks 32 years since the introduction of the ADA, HHS and DOJ released guidance focused on federal nondiscrimination laws, including the ADA Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and actions healthcare providers can take to ensure they are in compliance with these laws.

The guidance aims to ensure equitable care for those with disabilities, including people who are blind, deaf, or do not speak English proficiently. Blind people who seek out telehealth solutions may find that the modality does not contain screen reader software, and deaf people may have trouble engaging with an interpreter over telehealth. Those who are not fluent in English may struggle to seek and schedule an appointment. 

To curb discrimination, providers can take several actions, including making changes to their policies and practices to provide additional support for disabled people who wish to have a virtual visit, such as implementing sign language interpretation and language assistance services.

“It is critical to ensure that telehealth care is accessible to all, including patients with disabilities, those with limited English proficiency, and people of all races and national origins,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a press release. “Federal civil rights laws protect patients from discrimination whether they receive health care online or at the doctor’s office. The Department of Justice will vigorously enforce the ADA and other civil rights laws to ensure that health care providers offering telehealth services are doing so free from discrimination.”

HHS and DOJ also said that people can file complaints if they feel they are a victim of telehealth discrimination.

Complaints related to ADA violations are common and can occur when treating various conditions.

In May, AIDS Alabama and CHLPI claimed that Alabama Medicaid did not provide hepatitis C treatment for those struggling with substance use disorders. While filing the complaint, the organizations defended their argument by pointing out that Alabama Medicaid is in violation of the ADA.

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