A Section 1557 lawsuit is now pending in an Arizona federal court. Twelve (12) hearing-impaired individuals have brought suit alleging their health care provider discriminated against them by not providing sign language interpreters or electronic video interpretation. Instead of providing such accommodations, the lawsuit alleges, the health care staff relied on notes and lip reading in an attempt to communicate with the patients. The individuals assert that the provider should have trained the staff to recognize when interpretation is necessary, provided a functioning electronic video interpretation system, and instructed the staff on how to use electronic video interpretation.
The lawsuit underscores the requirements now imposed on health care providers under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act which became effective in July 2016. Section 1557 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability in federal health care programs. When interacting with individuals with sensory, manual, or speaking disabilities, health care providers are required to provide communication that is as effective as the provider’s communication with non-impaired individuals. This requires that health care providers have access to sign language interpreters, Braille handouts, visual aids, auxiliary aids, or other communications formats when the need arises.